Friday, August 29, 2008

Bio-Diesel, and Strawberries...Again!

Yes, again. I know what you are thinking, that's the second time I've said I was never going to do something and then, I've gone and done it...again! First it was planting trees, and now it's planting and picking strawberries! I must say though, this time it is under much better circumstances.

I'll start the story by relaying to you how incredibly convenient it is to be a working holiday maker (that's what I am) in Australia. It's virtually set up for travelers to make the grand circuit around the country following the multitude of harvest seasons while making money and seeing all the sights along the way. There are numerous caravan rental services that rent to travelers (some have really cool artworks on them), and even caravans for sale super cheap by the previous traveler-owners complete with kitchenware, chairs, tables and all! You can literally "work-about" Australia...that is, if you don't mind doing some hard work and camping in caravan parks of course. This time, we really lucked out.

The trip began on the Gold Coast (Queensland) with 30 liters of used vegetable oil from a Thai food restaurant strapped to the roof and about $600. Our plan was to get just about 6 hours north to Mundabera to pick some mandarins (something new!) for a week in order to have enough money to get all the way to Darwin (Northern Territory). We had probably just enough to get there in fuel, but not nearly enough for food and accommodation, so work was certainly in order. Our French friends had told us about the mandarin farm, and said they needed more workers, so we drove there confident that they would have jobs waiting for us...not the case. We were about a week too late, in fact, there were no fruit picking jobs anywhere nearby except, you guessed it, picking and packing strawberries. Here we are again!

We enjoyed the trip along the coast, and the newly converted bio-diesel truck was running just great, actually better than we thought. We stopped at any and every major town along the way in search of more veggie oil to convert to fuel for our big trip north. We managed to collect almost 50 more liters of used veggie oil, all from Thai food restaurants. We learned that most fish and chip shops use animal fat (YUK!) and that Chinese food restaurants didn't want to part with their used oil for some reason. We were sitting pretty now, with plenty of fuel to get to our destination and then on to Darwin. Then we ran into our first problem. On our way out to the job for the first day, (at 5:30 am) the truck began running a bit sluggish. The fuel to oil ratios mush have been a bit optimistic for the cool morning temperatures, and the fuel didn't seem to be getting to the engine properly. We didn't think we would make it to our first day of work at the job that we desperately needed. 2 hours and multiple stops to pump up the fuel filter later, we made it to the farm, and apologized to the owner...not the best first impression, but she liked us, mostly because we had previous strawberry experience!

Marg's strawberry farm is tiny in comparison to the last farm that we worked on. It's basically just Marg, her husband, friend, 2 kids, 2 pommies (English kids), and us working on the farm, and that's all they need. Instead of a mass production like at the last farm (shipping to grocery stores) Marg's strawberries all get sold on the side of the highway of this teenie tiny little town in the middle of nowhere. We must pick and pack thousands of strawberries everyday and I am still impressed to know that she sells out almost every single day with people driving from all over creation just to get a punnet or two of Marg's strawberries. It feels good to be a part of a local farmer's harvest season, and we feel like they actually care about us. The other bonus is that there is no bending down all day...well, not really anyways. We have little trolleys that we can sit in and wheel along as we pick, and then after picking for 3 hours, we pack them and cut the second quality fruit up for jam. It's a really cruisy job. We start at 6:30 and end usually before 1, and still have most of the day to do what we like.

The best part of the job is the accommodation... Just on the other side of the fence from the strawberry farm is a, shall we say, "hippie commune" just at the base of the National Park. It's more of a permanent fixture caravan park, no, it's a full on commune. The people that live here put on a big folk music festival called Winter Moon Festival every year which attracts nearly 2000 people. The property itself is beautifully maintained. Large trees of different varieties including citrus share the courtyard with the flamboyant and creatively constructed campers, and there is an incredible little organic herbs and green garden that we are welcome to help ourselves to. The place is painted in all sorts of festive colors with hand carved totem poles and lush shrubbery all around. We have a full kitchen, outdoor showers, and even internet access here. I don't think we'll have to pay much, they just said we'd settle up with them before we leave...pretty amazing spot really...and the owners are a trip! I bet you guessed that though!

I've got to quickly mention also the only store in town, just so you get an idea of what we are dealing with here. Everything in the shop is stored in old unplugged meat refrigerators, styrofoam boxes and deli shelving. I know, it's hard to imagine, especially when you see the range of items for sale there. My favorite odd commodity that I found in the shop was a library of trashy novels from the 60s stored in an old deli refirgerator. They also have a plethora of aged appliances, still in their original, yet sun faded boxes, and an impressive collection of "Microwave Tips" magazine which I'm certain went out of circulation centuries ago. They DO have just about everything you could possibly need though, including a chatty sales staff!

We've made pretty good friends with the Pommies, they're called Sofie and Ant, and they are a lovely couple. We have been enjoying each other's company, which is great considering we eat, sleep and work with them! It would be a bugger if we just didn't get along!

Another week or so here, and then we'll continue our veggie-adventure north to Darwin...we just hope the veggie oil and the Ute (truck) continue to run well. At least now we'll have some cushion money just in case... Better safe than sorry, right mom?