I seriously considered throwing out an overdramatic title to try and impress but figured it was a little too far fetched to suggest that I’ve been abandoned. Still, my picking crew and friends have packed up their lives and driven off into the night towards Adelaide.
After our time in Hazeldell there were some, probably avoidable, issues. A large amount of the mandarins we picked went to waste. If you leave a stalk on a mandarin and put it in a bin it will likely pierce one or two that go in on top of it. Once that bin makes it to the packing shed and it’s fed through the sorting machine that stalk will pierce the five or six mandarins closest to it. As pickers we lost maybe half of our earnings, but that’s nothing compared to the loses suffered by the grower, the packers and Mick and Karen.
A collection of errors led to the loss and my friends decided that it was enough for them to continue their travels. With plenty of time left on their visas and plenty of things left on their to-do lists I don’t blame them. There’s a part of me that wishes I could have gone with them but for me, it’s simply not possible. I still need a little over a month’s worth of days to finish my required regional work and I know Mick’s good for the work. On their last day, Mick and Karen invited me in for dinner when I finished work which I’d like to think was there way of showing their appreciation that I had chosen to stay. I have no doubts that they’ll look after me as best they can. My decision to stay wasn’t a difficult one but the consequences were.
Picking in a team of four is great. There’s someone else picking seventy five percent of the row. You only have to worry about your section. If, like me, that’s the bottom you’ve got it easy. There’s often two bags of oranges on the bottoms of every tree, and so after four trees you’ve picked your share of the bin and it’s likely full by now.
Alone, things aren’t so easy. My first day in a row on my own was tough, I picked two bins in four hours and was totally exhausted and felt like I’d never be good at picking. My problems start with the ladder, I’m not confident on my feet when I’m walking on flat Tarmac so when I’m twelve foot high resting on a metal rung little over an inch wide I’m a long way from my comfort zone. I’m also suffering because of my height, I am not a tall man and reaching the tops of the trees and some of the middles is close to impossible for me. I’ve now come to accept that some oranges just aren’t getting picked.
Moving on from my physical issues and onto the mental ones. I have no idea how to pick a whole tree. I know how to pick the bottoms of a tree. I’m still figuring out the best strategy to clear a tree as quickly and efficiently as possible. Having never seen an experienced picker up a ladder or in fact anywhere near a tree I’m not sure how best to proceed.
I’ve been given plenty of little tips, some work, some don’t, but the sooner I work out the best way the better off I’ll be. Next up is the psychological challenge. Picking doesn’t pay well, you pick what you earn. I’m slowly filling bins, thinking too much along the way and trying to get my mind off the fact that it doesn’t look and fuller than the last time I emptied a bag into it.
Simply put, picking on my own is tough. When I finish up here I think I will probably be in significantly better shape than I’ve been in for a good number of years and I’ll probably be very happy if I never see an orange tree again.