I’ll come up to the house of an occasional evening, knock on the door and then turn to the living room window. One of the kids will peer through the curtains. I’ll hear them say “it’s Chris!”, then there’s some shuffling about inside before the door opens, usually Imogen is standing there with a big smile and with a “hello” she lets me in.
I head for the kitchen where I know Karen, Mick and Garry will be sat around, having a smoke and knocking back a beer. The conversation is usually work related. I’m just about picking up on who and what the names and numbers relate to but who are these people, the ones that have let me stay behind their house, who have fed me and found me work? These are some of the kindest human beings you’re ever likely to meet! (Don’t I say that about everyone?)
It’s closing in on three months now and I’ve hardly said two words about my newest Australian family, so I guess now is as good a time as any. In the beginning I didn’t have much contact with Karen and Mick, sometimes they’d come down and say hello in the evenings or send their kids down with carrots and orange juice for us all but apart from that everyone seemed to keep themselves to themselves. Sounds strange considering Mick’s the boss, but he left Garry looking over us. Since everyone else moved on, I’ve been spending more time with everyone be it at work or at home. So, let’s get to know them a little better shall we?
You already know that Mick’s the boss, well one of the bosses anyway but I’ll come on that shortly, but what does that mean? He’s the man at the end of the phone when you find his ad on Gumtree, looking for pickers. His main role is the farm manager and he is almost always expecting a phone call from the owner to get him to come and do the next very important job.
Mick’s got a proper thick Aussie accent, he always greets me with “how ya goin’?” He’s got a cheerful disposition. He’s told me once, in relation to life in general, that you’ve just got to laugh your way through it. I’m also a big fan of his motto; “we don’t have problems here, only solutions.” I think the thing I’ve come to appreciate most about Mick is his way with words. He’s got a wonderfully colourful vocabulary, and I think without realizing it, he’s had me giggling away for hours on several occasions with his turn of phrase. When talking about a lucky individual he turned to me and said “it’s a well known fact that he was kissed on the dick by a fairy at a very young age.” That’s the kind of gold I can only dream of coming up with myself.
How about that other boss then? Karen strikes me as the woman in charge. Why do I get this impression? Well for one thing I’m already in trouble for not mentioning that she runs the show over at the juice factory! I certainly won’t make that mistake again. I don’t know how many official jobs she actually has, but beside mother and wife, she’s picked, juiced, and packed fruit and worked in a motel. I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who seems to work as hard and as often as she does.
She’s also perhaps one of the most generous people you’re ever likely to meet. Remember when we first showed up here and had next to nothing between us. Who came out with bags of basics to keep us going? Yep, Karen did. She’s always having me in for dinner, or if I don’t come up to the house she’ll send one of the kids down with a plate for me just to make sure I’m eating enough. Not only that but oh boy can she cook. I’m probably not allowed to disclose some of the things she’s cooked for me because the recipes are in demand by chef’s in Mildura! It’s a real treat when I know Karen’s got me some dinner on the go.
I’ve had the pleasure of picking some fruit over at Karen’s Dad, Doug’s place recently. Everyone had me believing that he was some fire-breathing demon who would come out with a gun and tell me to get off his land but once we arrived I came to understand that this was probably the side to him you’d likely meet if you crashed a tractor into one of his trees. After spending a day over there it was easy to see where Karen got her hospitable and generous traits from. Doug has been kind enough to come through the orchard after us with his afron, which is not dissimilar to a cherry picker, and cleans up the tops of our trees for us and if that wasn’t enough he always has the kettle ready to go for a tea-break. You couldn’t have it much better than that when you’re out picking. And if that wasn’t enough, he took me and Val (who I’ve been picking with of late) out to the pub for dinner to thank us for doing such a good job on his mandarins. What an absolute gent!
There are four children about the place and they’re all exceptionally polite. Ryan’s probably the oldest thirteen year old I’m ever likely to meet. I think he’s got more technical ability that I could ever imagine to have, even if I were to go back to school and study for another thirteen years. Sometimes he’ll be looking after our bins and trailers out in the fields and he’s been kind enough to pick a couple of bags to help me finish off a bin at the end of a day. He often comes over to my camp with one of his friends and a trailer load of fire wood for me which is always greatly appreciated. Jess, Patrick and Imogen are always smiling, saying hello. I’ve got a rainbow loom band from Jess, which I guess is the latest craze at school. Imogen has introduced me to some of her teddies and I’m fairly sure she’s tried to shoot with me a foam dart one time I was inside. Patrick is always polite even when I’m hassling him when he’s playing video games, or asking him difficult questions like “how come you don’t like spaghetti after a certain time of day?” It’s always great to see them coming down the path to drop off bags of bread, or vegetables or orange juice.
Then of course there’s Garry. He’s my occasional supervisor and does his best to keep me out of trouble whenever there’s a risk of me screwing something up when I’m out picking. He’s an old ex-surfer and I reckon the two most common words you’re likely to hear him say are “cool” and “dude”. He’s also the closest thing I’ve got to an experienced picker and always chips in with advice, Karen and Mick keep me well topped up with their strategies as well. He’s even chipped in a couple of bags of oranges when he’s got nothing else to be getting on with.
We’ve developed quite a healthy relationship based on our co-habitation of the shed, always offering each other tea or coffee or beer whenever we’re in the mood for one. We’re always talking about sport; he’ll tell me about the AFL and we’ll watch Friday Night Football, and I’ll tell him about the Premier League and we’ve spent hours over the last few weeks watching the World Cup.
It is strange, of course, to consider people you meet through a chance set of circumstances as family but without one of my own in this part of the world I think we’ve all sort of adopted each other for the remainder of the time that I’m here. I’d be hard pushed to say I’m not being looked after, everyone here has done way more than I could ever hope for to make sure that I’m getting on alright. I know I say this a lot, but I’ve been very lucky with the way things worked out for my regional work and I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.