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.

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