I still remember when Bastien arrived at the Oasis hostel. It was my first morning, I hadn’t been awake for very long. I was reading the gossip column on the BBC sport page on my phone. The door clattered open and it was the smell that hit me first; it was a cold mix of damp and tobacco. Then this bearded, flannel shirt wearing French guy stumbles in, making introductions and chatter about sleeping out in the rain. It never crossed my mind that this homeless looking chap would be they key to completing my regional work.
The next day Bastien and his travelling companion, Yves, headed up to some orange farm in the middle of nowhere and spent the day picking. When they eventually returned to the hostel they came with the news that that there would be enough work for Hans and I to join them at the end of the week. Initially I was skeptical but after three days of no work at the hostel, the thought of free accommodation and an adventure with these three gents persuaded me to take the risk.
It seems to me that finding regional work involves a fairly substantial amount of luck. I understand that this is probably dependent on your circumstances but for me, walking out on guaranteed income, a decent flat, and a rather wonderful young lady was kind of a big deal (what’s that you say? Later, later). Obviously if you’re drifting across the country looking for work where ever you land and moving with the harvest season, it’s probably not that much of a problem.
If I could do it all again differently, would I? Absolutely not, the past year might be the best I’ve had yet. Yes, that’s right, even better than the summer of 2005. That said, I’d certainly advise others to do it differently. I suspect that the search for regional work, the work you end up doing and the experience over all is likely to be the most stressful of those first 12 months of your working holiday visa.
As soon as you step off the plane, make it your number four priority. Get your Tax File Number, bank account and sim card sorted and then get yourself out into the middle of nowhere, or at least somewhere that has a qualifying postcode. The sooner you get your 88 days done, the sooner you can forget about it and crack on with having the time of your life.
I think that I’ve learned a lot from this experience and while I don’t see myself repeating it in the near future, I’m still one hundred percent glad I had to do it. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be faced with an opportunity to spend three months living in a tent. This is without question the roughest I’ve ever lived, and I hope it becomes the roughest I ever have to live. Being woken up in the morning because the temperature has dropped to below freezing is something I hope I never have to be exposed to again.
I’ve also learned a not unreasonable amount about citrus fruit and the picking and packing industries. Do you know the difference between a tangerine and a mandarin? No, neither do I, but I can tell you how to pick a mandarin. How about the fact that you can grow mandarins and navel oranges on the same tree? Yeah, I only learned about the budding process because I’ve seen it. Any idea what a Washington navel tastes like straight from the tree? Without a doubt the best orange you’ll ever have.
I’ll admit it’s not always been easy, I’ve missed home comforts now and again, more so now that I’m nearly at the end of my time. It still blows my mind that there isn’t a bus service out here on weekends and the one that runs to Mildura during the week only goes four times a day. The working side of life has also come with it’s troubles; reliance on others to do their job as well as you for example. Things can, and no doubt will, go wrong at some stage. The best thing to do when things go wrong is to put it behind you as quickly as possible.
There’s also the fact that picking is one of the most mundane repetitive tasks you can ever do. As the saying goes “If you’re not doing these ones” *makes orange picking movements with hands* “you’re not making money.” The days are long and it’s definitely not a lucrative business. Then of course there’s the picking itself which is as much a mental as it is a physical challenge. Your brain will hate picking fruit as much as your body will. My philosophy for getting through it; stick at it for three days. If you can do it for three days you can do it for 88. Whether this applies to anything other than orange picking I don’t know for certain but I still think you should stick it out and see how it goes!
I’m into my final two weeks and, touch wood, it has been on the whole a positive experience for me. I have to say though this is the first time I’ve been away from home (yes, I’m talking about Melbourne) for three months and have been genuinely looking forward to going back. That’s to take nothing away from Mick, Karen, their kids, Garry, (more on them later as well) and everyone I’ve had the pleasure of picking with so far. The people, as always, have helped to make this a memorable experience and I have no doubts that I’ve picked up some friends and lessons that’ll stay for life.