The tears sparked in my eyes as I bent down, whilst pain shot up from my knees, burning like electricity in my nerves. I screamed internally, as I reached for the blueberries on the bottom of the bushes; my hands and knees covered in mud, my back weighed down, my body under an amount of pain that I couldn’t think possible and all in 40 Degree heat in the tunnels. People were passing out left and right, I believe eight people passing out in one day was the highest, from lack of water, being overworked, not enough break time all whilst in the burning heat of Blueberry tunnels. Each bit of pain, each spider bite, each second you wanted to throw the buckets down and walk off, every single f**king berry picked all went towards one thing – Gaining a Second Year Visa in Australia.
But, what if I were to tell you, that those three painful, horrific months I spent working as a Blueberry Picker in Tropical North Queensland were some of the best months I have spent in Australia. It all started at the end of June, I was in Cairns, I needed a job, when I saw one advertised at Happy Travels, “Berry Pickers wanted – Paid Hourly” The agent told me with a beaming smile on her face, how could I refuse a paid hourly farming position?! I signed up on the spot and was promptly told that I would be travelling to Walkamin with a group of other travellers the next day to go work on the farm. I arrived at the bus stop to be greeted by a group of girls (mostly welsh) all absolutely lovely; as we sat on the bus from Cairns we headed out to Walkamin, about an hour and half away, we all were dubious about what the next few months would bring.
Arriving at Chewko Road Working Hostel we were greeted by other travellers, who had already been living there for a while, they took our bags and welcomed us into the midst of Farm life. It wasn’t until the next day where I realised how rural we were, we had nothing but dusty orange earth, orchards, small mountains and at night a canopy of stars. From West to East, North to South, the entire sky was ablaze with the Milky Way, constellations and the brightest moon you could ever hope to see.
We started working on a Blueberry Farm a few days after we had arrived, two buckets were tied around our waists, with a piece of string as we were told basic training “don’t rip the berries”, “don’t pick the red ones, any with any red on them, or white for that matter”, “don’t roll the berries around in your buckets”, “don’t pack more than 3KG in each tray”, that was it, we were off. The berry bushes were packed down tunnels containing rows and rows of bushes as far as the eye can see, starting on a row you had to pick every single acceptable berry as fast as you could. The bushes hung low on the floor, bending down the scoop up the berries, and then rising up above your head, reaching through spider webs grabbing berries like a mad woman.
After a few days of repetitive bending and reaching our bodies started to break, our hands got blistered, our knees hurt so badly when we had to bend that we would cry out loud in pain. Our feet were killing us, our backs burning from carrying buckets and buckets of berries each and every day. On top of it all occasionally a python would slither through the bush, all through it all we were told to carry on picking. One hot day I was bitten by a spider one morning on my arm, I carried on picking and it wasn’t until the afternoon when my arm was completely swollen and unusable that I was taken off of the picking team to have some medical care on it.
But! Through the pain, through the bites, the snakes, the monstrous spiders, there was something that kept us there. That something was Chewko Road and each other, we would finish our work days and go home to Chewko where we would play cards, make dinner with each other and talk shit about our days. It was bad, but we were all in it together, the Chewko family. On weekends we would party, much to Chewko’s Manager, Tracey’s (our sometimes enemy, mostly friend) despair. We had BBQ’s, parties with the neighbouring farms, a once a month night out to the pub in the nearest town (think school disco stuck in the 90’s – surprisingly lots of fun). Come July 25th we celebrated Christmas in July with everyone at Chewko and the neighbouring farms hosted at Chewko. We listened to Christmas music, each cooked a dish from our Home countries, and celebrated with lots of drinks and games; that was the day I first looked upon the friends I had made as my farmily.
Our weekends were our only respite from the nightmare of working on the farm, so we all decided to make the most of them. When we didn’t party we went on day trips, one weekend in particular all of us from Chewko drove to Cairns for the weekend to go Bungee Jumping, Bungee Swinging and to Snorkel and Dive on the Great Barrier Reef. On another occasion we went exploring the infamous waterfall loop (Josephine and MIlla MIlla) around North Queensland, we went slippin’ n slidin’, swimming in the freezing depths with tropical trees surrounding us, the water crystal clear. Jumping in I couldn’t catch my breath, I’ve never felt water so cold before. But that day, might still be one of the best days I have spent in Australia.
The days where we didn’t go on excursions we went for walks through the empty roads and dusty land surrounding us, As barren as the land was we were still surrounded by nature at every turn, Kangaroo’s Eagles, Spiders (Huntsmen are enemy number one) and venomous snakes, by the end of it not much surprised us any more.
The three months spent at Chewko flew by, I made friends on that farm with such a crazy, beautiful group of people that I couldn’t have ever of wished for a farmily better than them. It was incredibly bittersweet when the time came for us to leave we were all sad to be going, Happy that the painful work was over, but sad that we might not be together any more. As we left, I went travelling down the East Coast with three other girls on the farm, Becca, Mari and Shannon, after leaving them I moved to Melbourne where I’m now living with my close friend from the farm, Liz.
I am so grateful that I went to do my farm work, I believe that we were all incredibly lucky to have found ourselves on Chewko and to have found three months solid work on the Blueberries. It might have been an absolute nightmare at times, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the people I lived and worked with. If you’re wondering whether you should go and do your farm work, the only answer you should look for is a resounding YES. I can’t say that your experience would be much like mine, but personally, I wouldn’t miss out on an opportunity to find out.