Trip Start Sep 27, 2009
122Trip End Ongoing
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We were put in teams of 13 pickers and a driver. The 13 pickers have a bucket each and have to walk through a row of tomato plants each with bushes on each side. You have to pick any tomatoes with colour and put them into your bucket. A full bucket is about 100 tomatoes and when you fill your bucket you have to shout 'bucket', then line up next to the truck, pass your bucket along the line of pickers and then the driver empties the bucket in the bins. A bin can hold 40 full buckets, for each full bin we got paid $80 (which went up to $100 after a few weeks) between the 13 pickers.
Sounds easy but the tomato bushes aren't very high so you are basically bending over constantly and picking tomatoes. It was pure agony, the first few days were horrendous but we eventually got used to the pain but it didn't stop, our bodies ached all over every night, even our hands were aching.
The temperature on the farm was usually around the high 20's. We always wished for it to be overcast which it was sometimes but sometimes was also up into the 30's which was an absolute killer when your in the field all day. We both got awesome tans on our backs as Chris had his shirt off most of the time and Em was in her bikini top.
There was a surprising lack of bugs in the tomato fields thank god. The only wildlife we saw were cane toads and grass hoppers which were everywhere but luckily nothing else. We heard a few people had seen snakes as they hibernate in the plastic sheeting but luckily we didn't see any. One of the worse things about the picking was putting your hand in a rotten tomato as they smell disgusting but this happened everyday. Also you get filthy especially your hand as the pesticide they use makes all the dirt stick to you so its impossible to get off especially from your nails! Every day when you finish and jump in the shower the water just turns yellow as the pesticide comes off you not sure if thats to healthy.
The boss at the farm was called Velda and she was one hell of an Australian lady, every other word was a swear word and she was so fierce but she was actually a really nice lady underneath it all. She had a cute dog called Bundy girl that followed her around everywhere!
The original A team consisted of Martin the driver who was a sound guy from Estonia, then there was the three Irish guys, Colin, Sean and Dave who were all traveling together who were a great craic, a crazy but lovely German guy called Sylvan, Kaidi Estonia's best tomato picker, Leanne a Ozzy old bird as she called herself, another Irish guy called Nile otherwise known as Ned and a hilarious German couple called Tom and Jacquie! We all started on the same day and all got on really well and had a great laugh. The guys are some of the nicest and funniest people we have met and it made the days go past so much easier as we all just had a laugh all day.
We stayed at Harbour Lights Caravan Park which was right on the beach front in Bowen. It was a great caravan park and had a swimming pool and stuff. There was a few of us pickers staying here and we had some lovely neighbours who gave us a pumpkin and some fish which was great! The caravan park was $195 a week for a powered site and on top of that we had to pay Alan $60 transport for the bus to the farm (we weren't allowed to drive). We were really happy at being able to stay in the van because with the majority of working hostels you have to stay in the hostel.
On out first team day off we all headed to the local pub called the Grand View and had a funny night out. We all had a few beers and then at closing headed to Bowen's nightclub (we use the term loosely). The nightclub called QB was more like a barn dance or school disco but luckily we were all too drunk to notice and had a good laugh.
The first couple of weeks work absolutely flew by, a couple of days we finished at lunchtime so we all headed to the beach and chilled out and things were all good. We were earning good money and still had time to enjoy ourselves.
One of the weekends it was the Bowen Fishing Classic. Luckily we all had the Sunday off work so we all headed down to the beach on Saturday after work. There were loads of beer tents, food stalls and a stage where there was live music. It was really good fun and there was a big fireworks display along the pier too. We all stayed by the beach and drunk beers all night it was great fun.
On the Sunday we headed down to the front beach where the fishing competition was taking place. All the beer tents and food stalls were in full swing but we were more interested in the huge fish that were being bought in by loads of fishermen in wheelbarrows and all sorts as the fish were so big. We watched a few weigh ins, the biggest we saw was a 12kg mackerel but the winner was a 24kg mackerel, the fish were well impressive. The fishing around Bowen is meant to be brilliant and people come from all over to fish in Bowen!
After seeing the big fish we had a BBQ on the beach front with the Irish lads. We bought loads of meat and lots of beer and wine and sat on the beach front for the rest of the afternoon was a great day off.
There was a huge storm one night after the Bowen Fishing Classic and it rained for over 16 hours it was crazy. Luckily that meant we all got the day off work but after that the work got crazy. As the tomato farm was a day behind in the picking and they were short on pickers as a lot had quit it meant we were working extra hard. No more early finishes, we were working from 6.30am to 6.30pm and had so many tomatoes to pick it was such hard work. On the plus we managed to earn $950 each that week but we really worked hard for it, we didn't have a day off in 10 days and were absolutely exhausted. We did finally get one day off as Velda saw that we looked nackered, we drove the van up to Flagstaff hill which gives great views of Bowen's and the beaches, it made us realise that Bowen was a good place to get stuck working for a while.
Most of our evenings flew by as we were getting back after dark so by the time we had showered and eaten we were nackered but Tuesday nights in Bowen is pizza night. All the backpackers in Bowen headed to Eagle boy pizza as on a Tuesday, all pizzas were $7.50. All the backpackers would head down there, get a couple of beers from the Bottle shop and eat pizza, we had some good nights down there!
One weekend there was a big party at one of the local pubs for all the backpackers and fruit pickers. We all drunk at the Irish lads hostel first and went down to the party. The party was pretty cheesy and horrendous music but it was still a great night as everyone from the farm was there so we had a good laugh. The next day at work wasn't quite so great, hungover and with 4 hours sleep wasn't the best idea!
After a few weeks some of team started to leave and were replaced by people who came and went. We couldn't believe the amount of people that couldn't hack the work, they would do a day or sometimes couldn't even last a day before they would quit it was crazy. At one point the team was overtaken with Germans. We had three German girls called Jasmine, Kirsten and Marthia who stayed for a while and a Finnish guy called Joonas and a Scot called Claire who stuck around for a bit who were a good laugh.
Towards the end there was only 7 originals left who had been there from day one so we all decided to leave together on the same day. The last day was the best day picking as we all drunk goon on the field and were drunk most of the day, it was hilarious but somehow we still managed to make over $100 each.
That night we all went to the Grand View for some jugs of beer then went to the beach and drank goon, it was a brilliant last night. The next day we started where we had finished off, had an early jug of beer in the Grand View then headed back to the beach for a final farewell BBQ and beers, was a brilliant couple of days.
It would have been even better if we had actually left the next day as planned, unfortunately we had put the van in for a service and it needed some work doing on it so we had to stick around for a few more painful days on the field whilst the van got fixed.
On our best picking day we got 44 bins which was around $300 and our worse day was 6 bins $35 so it did vary a bit but for the majority of the time we were earning at least $100 a day after tax and anything over that was a bonus. We stayed for 6 weeks and managed to come away with $5,000 between us after paying for a service and some repairs on the van, so we are happy with that!
So we finally left Bowen after 6 long weeks. The tomato picking was bloody hard work but a brilliant experience, we made some fantastic mates and we have got so many memories! Bowen was a great place to stay too as the beaches are beautiful and there was always something going on so all in all we had a brilliant six weeks!