Not what I signed up for!

To quote Paul, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’.

In buying this caravan and becoming a Gray Nomad, our idea was to travel where the wind and whims took us, and we decided we’d do some work on the way around. We decided if we found ourselves in a job we weren’t happy with, ‘we were to be out of there’.

Nine months down the track – We’re in a job that is providing a moderate level of satisfaction for Paul. For me – not so.

Theoretically, the pay should work ok as the week-end pay should bump the rate up. However, last week-end we had a thunder storm that reduced work and resulted in cancelled shifts, and this week-end due to heavy rain Paul’s Saturday shift was reduced to 4 hours, and again all Sunday shifts were cancelled. I didn’t work at all on Saturday, and my shift today was cancelled. Paul has been working since 11am and probably won’t return until 8 or so tonight. He’s helping out on the bunkers at a different sight that is having some staffing difficulties.

For Pinnarro, rain has stopped the harvest, and it won’t start up again until the sun and wind dries it again. Too much rain and it could be ruined altogether. I suspect currently, it’s not looking good.

Yesterday was okay. We knew early enough so we could plan a day out. We went to the nearest bigger town of Loxton, which is around 130 kms away. Being a Sunday, not much was open, but we did find a winery to go to for lunch, and also a lovely historical home to visit.

Today Paul’s at work, I’m at home in the caravan. Pinnaroo has an IGA, a butchers, a news agency and a bakery, but we don’t need any supplies. There are no other shops, no towns nearby, no national parks or beaches near by, in fact there’s absolutely nothing near by except crops of wheat and barley within a 130 km radius of Pinnaroo.

I’ve read, and perused the internet until I’ve just about gone doolally, and am reminded that ‘I didn’t sign up for this’.

Looking at our current Schedule, we have a caravan park booked in Adelaide from 20th December to end of January. Then we have caravan parks booked  around the Great Ocean Road as we make our way to Melbourne to pick up the ferry to Tasmania, which is booked for the 9 March. Then we have flights booked towards mid April for Sydney and the UK, returning early in June. Including our time here at work, that means we have committed more than 8 months of our time with no room for the wind or whims to take us anywhere. Again, not what I signed up for. Grrrr!!!! We manage to do this too often, book our lives away, and get trapped by plans of our own making.

If I sound like I’m having a whinge, that’s because I am. Just a bit ‘over it’ today.

We’re both on afternoon shifts at Pinnaroo tomorrow. Hopefully, the trucks will be rolling in and it’ll be a better day. If not – well, I’ll think about that tomorrow……

Whippy, we’re not at Walpe anymore

We spent about two weeks at Walpeaup. It felt like about two months. I had a couple of 12 hour shifts, and about 8 trucks came through the weigh bridge on each. The first day was just bearable. The second was slightly less interesting than watching grass grow. I don’t mind cleaning kitchens and toilets, and pulling weeds and sweeping up spilt grain. But it does have to be in the right percentage to the real work.

We had decided to quit, but our bosses Karen and Troy said we were needed back at Pinnaroo. So, back we’ve come.

Paul has worked everyday since coming back, I’ve worked everyday except two. The season was just starting to get going, and then we had a thunder storm. The crops got wet, and the farmers had to wait for the sun and wind to dry them out again before the harvest could re-commence. So, we’ve had another couple of days that made watching paint dry seem thrilling in comparison. These were only seven hour days though, so not quite as mind numbing as the 12 hour days at Walpe.

Today, the trucks were coming in again, so the day passed reasonably well.

I don’t think the seasons going to be very long. We’re expecting to leave for Adelaide no later than 20 December, but if the season starts to die down sooner, we’ll leave sooner.

Whether or not we’ll return to this work again next year is still to be decided. Currently the feeling is a definite ‘no’, but that’s because the long, tedious days are still too close in our memory. A week or so with so many trucks coming and going that we hardly have time to scratch ourselves, and perhaps we’ll be more open to the idea of returning. The pay is okay, and it definitely is for a short, finite period of time.

Same job, different site

We were transferred from Pinnaroo in SA to Walpeup in Victoria. The towns are just over 100 kms apart.

Walpeup is a much smaller site, with a small staff, and no boss. By the end of the week, when we expect to be in full swing. We’ll have 4 couples, plus three single guys working here. We’re all around the same age and work out our shifts and what we’re each doing between us.

Being so small, we set the opening hours according to the demand of the farmers and their crops. Last week we opened at 7am for a 7.30 start, and closed at 3.30pm. By Wednesday of this week we expect we’ll be opening at 6.30am for a 7am start and closing around 6.30pm. Expectations are we’ll be doing 12 hour days, 6 days a week. The site will be open 7 days, and we’ll rotate so as to get one day off each week, with couples taking the same day.

I can’t say the work’s that pleasant for the guys as they’re out in the hot sun and wind and a lot of their work is very physical. They all seem to be enjoying it though, and I think that’s because they know they’re only here for a short time. Us girls work between the sampling office and the weigh bridge, both air conditioned. It could be boring, but as we also all get on well, and again, it’s only for a short time, so all very bearable, and even enjoyable.

Walpeup caravan park is small and in comparison to Pinnaroo is more like a roadside one nighter. There is power though, and a very clean toilet and shower for both men and woman. The town of Walpeup is tiny with only a general store, and if comparing it to Pinnaroo, Pinnaroo seems like a grand metropolis.

We drove 130 kms to Mildura yesterday so as to stock up our fridge and freezer from a big supermarket. The freezer is so full now i’m struggling to find room for ice trays. It’ll only take a couple of days though for that to start reducing. We do have another town, Ouyen, about 30 kms away, and there’s a small supermarket there. So, we shouldn’t have to use the general store too often.

We’re learning a lot about the lives other people live – in this case farmers, and seasonal workers. We drive past crop fields, and silos so often without giving them a second thought, and selfishly complain if the heat or wind, or rain affects our personal comfort level. We’re now getting an up close look at the effects of the weather on the livelihood of people working the land.

We all know how much farmers depend on rain to plant and water their crops. Now the crops are ready for harvest though too much rain will be disastrous. When a loaded wheat truck arrives we sample the wheat, testing for all sorts of things, one of which is moisture content. A higher moisture content will result in a down grade, so less money for the farmer. Too much moisture and the crop will be rejected altogether. A big deluge could result in complete devastation, and a wasted year for the farmers costing them potentially millions. Heat and warm winds are vital during harvest as it drys the crops out.

The wheat already delivered and piled up in the bunkers is best left uncovered to prevent condensation, so we keep a close eye on weather reports. Any sizeable expected rainfall and the guys carry out the mammoth and difficult task of tarping over the wheat stacks. Friday night it rained unexpectedly and heavily. We were awake hoping our wheat wasn’t being drowned and ruined. A quick check Saturday morning though determined it hadn’t been as drenching a rain fall as feared, and the wheat should make it to next years loaves of bread.

Farmers are a tough bread. We’ve been here for only a few weeks and the harsh reality of how they have to soldier on, when life becomes difficult is already apparent.

This week a young farmer from the district lost his life tragically when a wheat silo collapsed on him. All of the farmers visiting our site knew him, played cricket with him, went to school with him, know his family etc, but emotions are put to one side as crops have to be harvested. They cannot afford to stop to grieve immediately. Maybe they put it on the back burner for when time allows. But when you and I depend on their crops to put food on our tables, and they depend on the harvesting of the crops to put food on their tables, both they, and we cannot afford for them to give in to emotions. Their crops don’t wait and can’t be put on hold.

When people say farmers are the salt of the earth, now I can relate. They deserve both our respect and our admiration. They have mine.

Time for the dreaded 4 letter word

Here we are in Pinnaroo, a little wheat belt town almost at the border of South Australia (SA) and Victoria, on the SA side. We’re here for a couple of months for that dreaded thing called ‘WORK’.

We arrived last Wednesday and are staying in the local caravan park. To say it wouldn’t win awards would be an understatement, but that’s awards for being the best, or the worst of caravan parks. It’s adequate for it’s clientele which is predominantly seasonal workers. We are luckier than many here for the wheat season in that our caravan is self contained and we don’t have to use the amenities. There’s also a considerable amount of backpackers here working on the potato crops.

We did our compulsory induction last Friday, which is the usual type of box ticking induction to say the company has followed due process in relation to safety training. Paul went in yesterday to the Bunker trainer induction, and is in again today helping to get the bunkers ready for the crops when they start coming into the silos. The expectation is this will commence next week. So, between our on line training, both inductions and Paul’s shift today we’ve more than covered this weeks expenses and our bank account should have altered direction from it’s downward spiral.

It’s up around 40 degrees today and Paul will be outside working on hot concrete in the open. I wonder if it’ll mean a short end to our careers on the wheat silos! I suspect not – he’s built of sturdy stuff is ‘my Paul’. I do feel for him though, it must be a rude finish to that which has been an idealic eight months. I’m sitting inside the caravan with the air conditioning blasting away and writing this.

We are yet to find out what our main jobs will be. Indications are Paul will be operating the Hopper, which we think is where the wheat is unloaded and which then transports the wheat along to be unloaded into the bunker. I think I’m going to be entering the data in relation to the grade of wheat and completing the paperwork for the farmers, and on occasion operating the weigh bridge. I’ll be predominantly in an air conditioned office. As yet though, it’s all about as clear as mud, but time will bring clarification to the process of work on the wheat silos I’m sure.

We’ll be working shifts alternating between 6.30am to 3pm shift for the first week, and 2.30pm till the last truck is processed on the second week. The trucks have to be in the queue by 8.30pm but often it can be as late as midnight when the processing and clean up is finished. We’ll be working 6 days a week. But, it’s only for a couple of months and with shift allowances and penalty rates hopefully it’ll go a long way to paying for our UK and Italian holiday next year.

We each have uniforms, boots, hard hats etc supplied. Mine were the wrong size so I’m waiting for replacements. When mine arrives I’ll post some real ‘glamour photos’ of us both in our top of head to tip of toe, high viz cover up clothing. No reason why you can’t all have a laugh with us, and at us in our cat walk gear!!

The big swim

We’ve been in Robinvale now for almost a week. Robinvale is on the Victorian side of the Mighty Murray. The Murray forms the border between the two states with NSW having laid claim to the actual river.

The Mighty Murray.

The Mighty Murray.

The first few days here were glorious, with temperatures around 30 most days. We went in the river for a dip one day, but Paul was a bit reluctant to venture far from the bank. There can be strong undercurrents here, so it’s wise to be cautious I guess.

Undercurrents aside though, I couldn’t resist the challenge of swimming from ‘Victoria to NSW’. There was a guy in the park who was swimming it twice a day. I approached him and asked of the dangers, explaining I’m a reasonable swimmer but more consistent than strong. He was thrilled to accompany me across and back, and I’m pleased to say we weren’t troubled by any undercurrents. So, I can now boast that I’ve swam from Victoria to NSW. I was elated to have done it, but really it wasn’t that far, or that hard. Paul’s just a bit of wus.

Our van is backed right up to the rivers edge almost. It’s stunning. The first few nights we were very lucky to have NSW retired farmers on either side of us. We shared happy hours and dinners with them on the banks of the Murray under the shade of a big weeping willow. They were wonderful people and we enjoyed their company immensely.

How good is this for a camping spot.

How good is this for a camping spot.

I must say, they blew the stereo type of ‘tunnel visioned’ country folk right out of the water. I’m used to being very cautious when I play the devils advocate and approach subjects such as boat people, refugee camps and length of processing time, drug legalisation and several other topics that have a tendency to create heated discussions on occasions. It was refreshing to meet people with whom these topics could be discussed openly and without reticence. I’m so used to feeling like I’m being attacked by a flock of Hitchcock’s birds most times when I put my point of view forward, so to meet like minded people was like a breath of fresh air.

That’s the real beauty of life on the road. You get to meet so many wonderful people from all different back grounds that you wouldn’t otherwise meet.

We leave here tomorrow for Pinaroo in SA where we’ll be doing a couple of months work on the wheat silos all going well. Hope we can tolerate it, but if we can’t we haven’t lost anything and will have had another of life’s experiences we otherwise wouldn’t have had without this trip.

Leaving Grafton

The paperwork for our wheat silo jobs has held up our start date, so we were able to extend our time on the farm by a few days. Currently, we’re still not sure when we’re going to be starting, but have agreed to get there around the end of next week. The site we’re going to need us to start sooner rather than later, but head office (who doesn’t have to face the farmers) is dragging it’s heals with the paperwork. The idea is that if we’re there, the site managers can then try and nudge head office along. So, we’re now set to leave our lovely little farm on Tuesday morning.

Paul is thrilled that he has managed to get several of the cows eating fresh picked grass out of his hand. We’ve now been here long enough to start giving some of the cows names. So far we have Doe Eyes, Short Horns, Long Horns, and Blue (the four red cows). The two small brown cows we’ve called Murray 1 and Murray 2 – that’s because they’re both of the breed called Murrays I believe. The blacks are harder to identify with the exception of, Testie (so named because he has a huge growth that resembles, you guessed it, a rather large testicle), and the only female is, Missie.

Murray 1 and Short Horns enjoying a hand fill of lush grass.

Murray 1 and Short Horns enjoying a hand full of lush grass.

Short Horns enjoying a bit of a pat.

Short Horns enjoying a bit of a pat.

Sharing a kiss.

Sharing a kiss.

Murray 1, Short Horns and Blue all eat now from Paul’s hand. Some of the others do as well, but those three will always come up for a nibble. Short Horns up until today was tentatively letting let Paul give him a bit of neck rub. Today though he actually seemed to be enjoying it and was making his neck accessible without any sign of reticence. Murray 1 and a couple of the others are just starting to warm to him give their neck a bit of a rub.

We’ve been walking out over the farm quite often and have come across two huge rabbit warrens, both of which the dogs are well aware of, unfortunately. They’ve bought home two dead baby rabbits and two dead adult rabbits. We’ve told them off each time, but yesterday we gave them a right good scolding. We managed to catch Riley and severely scolded her while showing her the dead rabbit, and we put her in the old bird coop (which is now the ‘dog house’, for when the dogs need to be put into the ‘dog house’, I believe). Abbey slunk away and hid under our caravan, so she escaped ‘the dog house’, but not a good tongue lashing. They’re both very quiet today, so I think they’re still sulking a bit that their beloved minders got really cross with them. They thought they had us wrapped around their little paws.

I’m sure they’re only doing what comes naturally to dogs though. Riley, being foxy cross, is a natural for heading into the burrows to chase the rabbits out. And I’m sure Abbey gets excited by the thrill of the chase when one makes a run for it. But they do seem to look very guilty when they’ve forgotten themselves and dragged their ‘kill’ home for us to discover. Ratbags.

We’ve loved staying on the farm. It’s been an experience we wouldn’t have missed. So, thank you to Kaye and Paul for letting us have a share of your little piece of paradise. It’s only been for a short time, but the joy has been immense.

Medicals for work – perhaps as a Rocket Scientist

We had our medicals for work this week. The first was at the Grafton Medical Centre and took close to two hours each. We were weighed and measured. We were tested for asthma. We had our hearing and sight tested. We had our balance tested. This involved standing barefooted in one spot for 30 seconds with our eyes closed – not as easy as it sounds.

We were given a breathalyser to ensure we were alcohol free. All our reflexes were tested and our limbs and joints tested to make sure they all worked well and could rotate in all the directions they’re supposed to rotate in. We had to squat walk across a room, and we had to touch our toes. We provided urine samples which was checked for protein and other possible abnormalities. Our blood pressure was taken, and all our medication checked and noted.

Then the appointment was made for two days later for drug screening. We were separately taken into cubicles where we were required to wash our hands without using soap, then presented with a tray of specimen containers and requested to pick one. They weren’t allowed to hand us one! The cubicles had a toilet one side and wash basin the other which were separated by a curtain. On route to the cubical I had to lock my handbag in a cupboard, I wasn’t allowed it with me in the cubical. We were both required to empty our pockets.

Then with the curtain half drawn we were required to pee into the container whilst the Dr stood about two feet away on the other side of the curtain making sure we didn’t substitute a drug free sample for our own. Again we had to list all medications both prescription and non prescription that had been taken over the last month. We were again breathalysed for alcohol.

It was a surreal type of experience. We think we’ve applied for seasonal work on the wheat silos. It’s usually around an eight week season, the work is laborious, and we’ll be working in hot, dusty conditions. It’s repetitive, unskilled work and is amongst the lowest paid type of work in the country. It’s akin to fruit picking basically. Anyway that’s what we think we’ve applied for. But after the tests we’re not so sure. Perhaps they have us earmarked for something really amazing – perhaps we’ll be working as Rocket Scientists!

How absolutely bazaar. The mind boggles….