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.