Cherry Tomatoes, Oranges and Vineyards: Our Harvest Trail

Vineyard in Penola & Coonawarra | Big Days Out

Sydney, Brisbane and maybe back again was the title of the last update but as our current location is Penola in South Australia things you could say haven’t exactly gone to plan. Let’s begin shall we…

After our library time on the Sunshine Coast, we headed back to Brisbane, continued to job hunt and free camped as much as we could to preserve our declining dollars. As jobs still did not materialise, our desperation nearly led us into a sales job, which to be honest the less said about that one the better.

Thankfully, our judgement to step aside from that job was followed by the reward of two job offers to pick fruit. Both in Queensland, we were now in the unprecedented position of having a choice. Was it to be the sweet potatoes in the Lockyer Valley or cherry tomatoes in Bundaberg?

We deliberated and plumped for the Lockyer Valley but when we set off we temporarily misplaced our location in the south-east suburbs of Brisbane meaning we weren’t going to make it in time so we went to Bundaberg instead. Love it when a plan comes together.

So, we aimed Morris the Mazda north and headed for Bundaberg. The journey was showered with rain of which neither of us had ever seen the like of before. At times, all I could see were the faint rear lights of the vehicle in front. Consequently, when we arrived in Bundaberg, it was underwater.

Our destination was the awful working hostel named DingoBlue on Quay Street. After half an hour of getting drowned running/driving with the windows down we couldn’t find it. So, with barely a working phone between us we gave up and went to the listed hostel address on Burrum Street to be told there are two separate parts to Quay Street. Naturally, we had been in the wrong part. As we left to go to the correct part of Quay Street, I nearly lost Francesca to the floods. I hopped back into the van and then watched as Francesca left the curb, disappeared behind a 4×4 and plunged head first into a 4ft ocean of water.

You are all now free to laugh at that image!

She was already soaked so it made no difference, I guess. Anyway, we got to DingoBlue Hostel number 2 on Quay Street and struggled to fill in paperwork as we fought off the early stages of hyperthermia as the chaos of 200 hostel guests getting drunk on a Friday night surrounded us. Thankfully, we were staying at DingoBlue’s third hostel approximately a 1km away. Forty-five minutes later we arrived courtesy of incorrect directions from the hostel receptionist. Drowned and at best, despondent we were comforted by friendly northerners, a quieter hostel and unashamedly after the day’s events McDonalds across the road.

Events were never wetter but unfortunately never got better. Across the 7 nights, we spent in a 6-bed dorm at DingoBlue, we worked for a grand total of 2 hours and we lost money in doing so. We were willing to work though and on our first day we waited outside our hostel at 5.20am to be picked up. At 6am, I made the call to ask where the bus was only to be abruptly told that cherry tomato picking was cancelled today. I guess we never received that memo.

The next day we finally got onto a farm and worked our two hours. Following the torrential storms of the Friday, most of the tomatoes were split and therefore not suitable to be picked. In two hours, I picked one complete bucket and Francesca managed a world record of two buckets. At a price of $5.30 (Approx. £3) a bucket, we made £1.50 and £3 an hour respectively and that’s before we even consider the tax. Additionally, we had to pay $8 each for transport, so in fact we lost money. However, all of this is irrelevant as neither of us have been paid for the work. Two hours in and it was time to go home but no one bothered to tell us. I was busy picking away striving to break even and my phone rings. It’s Francesca telling me that everyone has gone and our bus has left without us. Of course!

Cherry Tomatoes Bundaberg | Big Days Out
I want to break even. Two hours wasted on this very farm.

We managed to get the bus to come back for us and we were welcomed by a plethora of sarky comments from the driver. Already bubbling over, we both refrained from taking a swing at him. Cherry tomatoes was cancelled the next day and we handed in our notice, used up the remainder of our weeks’ worth of rent before heading off! It also took us 3 weeks and many phone calls to get our deposit back from DingoBlue. All in all, it is a disgrace of an organisation and working hostels are bad news for backpackers. To be avoided at all costs is what we realised.

At DingoBlue, we did fortunately meet a couple of nice people and one of which told us about an orange picking job in Hillston, NSW approximately 700km inland from Sydney. So, off we headed to the Outback via some overnight temperatures of -6 degrees (yes, it gets surprisingly cold in the winter here), a new battery for Morris and a heater so we didn’t freeze to death.

Hillston was a tiny outback town 100km from the nearest “big place” and let’s say Francesca has not had a more surreal birthday in her life. The memory of skyping her family outside a fish and chip shop in the outback in the freezing cold because nowhere else had WIFI is one that we will never forget.

Hillston | Big Days Out
Outback life

The day after the wild, chip induced celebrations and we were on our 2nd farm in Australia to pick some Oranges. Up the 3.5m ladders we went and picked because our life actually did depend on it. After a back-breaking day, we made the grand total of $75 (approx. £44) between us. Have you spotted the theme yet?

Orange picking in Hillston | Big Days Out

In between, nearly falling out of trees we deliberated along with another English couple about what we were going to do and whether or not there was an hourly paid farm job anywhere in Australia. Thankfully, at the end of the day a third English couple informed us of an hourly paid job they’d heard about through the grapevine on a vineyard in South Australia.

As the crazy, carefree individuals it seems as though we have become, we blazed a day long, 800km English harvest trail from Hillston to the Penola & Coonawarra wine region in South Australia. As we were now fully adjusted to the mild peril of bouncing from job to job, we were able to enjoy the stunning scenery and open roads. It is staggering to drive so far and see so few cars. It felt like a true road trip.

Fortunately, the daily job search peril has been replaced by the security of hourly pay and two free bottles of wine each at the end of the week, which we have been drinking copious amounts of every weekend with one of the English couples from Hillston we’ve made friends with. We have to drink it as Morris hasn’t had his wine cellar put in yet.

After 4 weeks in Penola, we’re now expert pruners and we’re used to the aches and pains that the job brings but the torrential rain from time to time is not appreciated. Although it has meant there has been many rainbows and thankfully there was a pot of gold at the end and not just a bucket of cherry tomatoes.

I guess until the next time all there is left to say is… Cheers!

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