Monday, September 14, 2009

A mild detour

And the WINNER(s) of my Wanderlusting Store Giveaway ARE:

1) Politics Chick for the $30 gift card to

2) Anika for 60% off any purchase

3) Doreen for 40% off any purchase


WARNING - story ahead - reading required

Right, so, everything right now is fashion this, fashion that. I get the idea it's fashion week everywhere in the world right now and frankly, I'm staying away from "what's new." I mean A), I'm BROKE and B) Spring Summer 2010??? How about I worry about that IN the spring of 2010? Not now, it's fall 2009, SHEESH.

So this post has nothing to do with fashion (except my lack thereof asyou will notice), instead it was brought upon my scanning old photographs for a post about Fraser Island, Australia on my travel blog, which of course you can view and read H E R E but come back, will ya?

Anyhoo, while I was scanning photos from my album (yes, scanning, yes these were taken almost a decade ago - and YES before anyone asks, I WAS 30 pounds heavier back then) I came across a set that reminded me of the one-time I attempted to work in Australia. Yes, I went to Australia with a work permit and worked for only ONE day out of the 7 months I was there. This is that story:

The year is 2000. I had traveled alone - God knows why - to Australasia (why alone, not why I went down under). I guess I've always been very independent and sometimes prefer my own company to others. But at that time, I had become very disraught over a bad breakup and wasn't sure how to "find myself" and a solo adventure was what I needed. It was the best thing an 18 year old girl could ever do.

Anyway, I went to New Zealand for a month (only to move there three years later) and then went to Australia. I had an Australian work visa and was planning to use it - get a job, make money, start a new life...for six months or so. I moved to the Sydney suburb of Avalon, a rich, snooty place where my very non-rich and non-snooty half-aunt Kaarina was living. I lived with her and her annoying roomate Keith in the tropical suburb, enjoying eating mangos everyday, watching cockateels fly around her backyard and freaking out at various Australian deadly insects. It was a wild three months which I am sure to explain some other time.

Anyway, near the end of three months it was becoming apparent that it was very hard for me to get a job in Sydney...I did apply many places but no such luck. With my mother coming to visit me for two weeks, I thought maybe the best thing to do would be to get out of my aunt's hair and travel elsewhere for a job, after my mom leaves.

Through an employment agency, I scored a job picking grapes.

Yup. The job that most foreigners have tried in Australia, at least once.

The destination was the town of Mildura, in the interior of Victoria, near New South Wales. I was to be put up in a "nice" backpackers which let workers defer their pay for room (but not board). This sounded like the best option for me, especially as I could save money while making some on the side.

I said a sad goodbye to my mom in Sydney while I boarded the Greyhound for Mildura. This was the first of many, MANY bus rides I would take throughout the country and certainly one of the longest (my longest was 36 hours...on a bus...can you imagine? I mean, the first 12 hours were fine but...)

So, after numerous stops including the capital of Canberra, I arrived in Mildura 11 hours later, I believe in the very, VERY wee hours of the morning. I think I took a cab to the hostel because no one came to pick me up. I remember walking into a ...well, a shack, really.

The back door to the rancher was bottles everywhere outside in the dodgy backyard. I let myself in through a tiny, gross kitchen which I could barely see in the wee hours and saw a couch. I promptly fell asleep on it.

At around 6 AM I heard people bustling to and fro. No one said anything to me and I kept sleeping.

At 9 AM I got up when someone sat on the couch next to me and turned on the TV. I got a good look at my surroundings and met Will.

I was in a living room of a run-down looking house with a broken TV that was half static. William was a Slovenian who had been working for 3 weeks at Zippy's Backpackers (which is where I was). He had hurt his back the other day and had been taking a few days off. He explained that everyone else was out grape-picking...Zippy (real name Peter) takes the backpackers out to the vineyards each morning at 630, as well as the neighbours, also borders, whom he called "The Iraquis." I guess cuz they were from the Middle East.

Anyway, I just bummed around the dodgy house, while putting my bags away in a dorm room with four saggy bunk beds and a hole in the wall. Minute by minute I was starting to dread taking on this position.

I started to dread it even more when William starting telling me how we actually make our money. See, with grape picking the goal is to fill up the bucket. I believe you get paid $5 per bucket or something like that.

Sounds easy. It's not.

Later that evening, I met everyone else as they came in from a day among the vines, weary and sunburned. Then I met crazy Peter, the infamous owner of this dump and a man that apparently had Vietnam on his mind alot. He gave the low-down: once a week he pays us and then we give him money for rent. We leave for the vines at 630AM everyday and we get back home at 5PM. It was also our responsibility to keep the hostel clean - no cleaning ladies here.

Luckily amidst all the rules and filth, I met the rest of my workers who were all wonderful indeed: Kornell, a man who looked like Jack Nicholson, Rebecca from Tasmania, Jody from Melbourne, Tracey from Ireland who worked as a nurse back home and Tom, also from England. These people would be my saving grace.

And thus began my week at Zippys.

sunrise over the vines

The next morning, 6AM, we headed to grape vines. I got my bucket and gloves and a little knife type thing. The gloves were in case a red-backed spider jumped on your hands. They liked to hide in the grapes. They are also deadly.

That peice of information was quite an ominous start to the day and my grape-picking career.

So I started picking.I picked, picked, picked, picked and four hours later I barely had a full bucket. How on earth was I gonna make any money at this rate?

Then the brutal sun kicked in, then my backaches started and then, THEN, a red-back spider plopped out of the vines and on to my arms. I SCREAMED bloody murder, whacked it off with my glove and threw the other glove in the bucket.


Unfortunately for me, there was at least 4 more hours of work left but I wasn't having any of it. So I ended up calling a cab to come pick me up and take me back to Zippys.

Yes folks, first day on the job, I quit in the middle of it and take a cab from the vineyard.

Later, when the crew returned, I totally thought they were going to give me flack for quitting. But they just high-fived me and very slowly over the course of the week, they one-by-one quit. Only Will stuck by until the bitter end.

So what did we do in Mildura when we weren't getting eaten by spiders on the vineyards? Well, we walked to town to use the internet (took an hour, under the blazing sun) and discovered that Mildura was quite a charming town after all. I distinctly remember buying CASSETTE tapes of Madison Avenue and Anastasia from a local music store lol.

It's probably a worthwhile destination too these days as it seems to have blossomed into a thriving river town with fishing galore and loads of wineries.

Back then though, it just seemed like the river was the place to be and we spent plenty of days on its sandy banks, trying to escape the stifling heat. We even went fishing but sadly it did not make it on our dinner plates.

Our nights were filled with movies, booze, haphazard cricket games and various ponderings of the universe. We also "whinged" a lot about our disgusting living conditions and slave like labourings - it was during those nighttime drinking/whingeing sessions that we all really bonded.

It was also during one of those sessions in which we all decided to skip out on the bill. As in, leave Zippys in the morning while Peter was out driving the Iraquis to the field and take off.

As it happened, our last night there he ended up paying out everyone, so now everyone was free to leave - except me, Will, Tom and Becs. I didn't make any money and he thought we were staying for a few more days. Not that anyone else made anything for that week: Rebecca got $5 and William, even though he filled up buckets like there was no tomorrow, spiders be damned, only got $500 for nearly a month's worth of back-breaking labour.

Anyway, we all got deliciously eccentric over the fact that we were going off on this radical, illegal adventure and started plotting our escape route. That morning, at 645 AM, while Peter was out driving and while I was nursing the most massive hangover ever, we snuck out under dawn's grey sky and Will, Tom and I piled into Becs tiny car. We were just pulling out of the driveway when we saw Peter coming down the street.

With our hearts in our throats, we exchanged a gleeful/worried glance and yelled "DRIVE WOMAN DRIVE!" to Rebecca as Peter came closer. She gunned the car and we took off like a shot, blasting down the road and careening around the corner. Looking back I swear I could see Peter shaking his fist in the air at us.

And thus we sped off, up through Victoria and New South Wales in a hot, cramped car across flat grasslands, through cowboy towns, while the Eagles (courtesy of moi) played on the CD player, until we reached the freedom of Queensland and the money-making promises it kept.

Of course, all those promises turned out to be big fat lies, but that's a story for another day.

PS as I finished writing this, I stumbled upon an old review of this hostel. I read about half of it before I cut and paste, just to give you an idea of what was about to ensue:

Oh my, I just do NOT know what to say about this place. I would review it, but I think the pictures I took would scare some people. In one word: NO. Don't go there. Don't even think about it. Peter, the guy who owns it, is a firm believer of slavery. He won't let you stay unless you work for him picking grapes. You'll make about 2$ an hour doing hard labor and the place costs 15$ a night. It's not even worth 2$! The place is SO gross, dorms with holes in the walls, saggy beds, bugs in the bathrooms and the kitchen and couches with stuffing coming out. Thankfully, I was saved from insanity (I hope) by the workers I stayed with. We all got together and formed a mutiny, escaping Zippy's one morning and vowing to never return. And NO I am NOT being too dramatic! Just ask anyone who has been there...if they haven't erased it from their memory. On a lighter note, Mildura is a cool town and the river is a good place to cool off.

You know what's funny about this review? I FREAKIN' WROTE IT! As I read it I was like, this sounds like my trip. Ah hahahaha IT WAS MY TRIP!


daisychain said...

What an amazing story...I would have quit at the mere mention of the word spider!

pretty*pink*rat said...

You are full of adventures, girl. This story is great, one that books or movies could be made from.

Loved reading it, share more stories like this in the future?

youarefunneh said...

this. is. hilarious.

Rachel said...

that sounds like fun - as long as you have good, funny people to go through hell with, hell isn't bad at all :)

write more!!!

Jules said...

I wouldn't even have started at the mention of a redback!!

Great tale, sounds like you definitely knew how to make the most of a situation, LOVE the Eagles and can't wait to hear about your NZ experience.

♥ Marta ♥ said...

You're had quite a fair share of experiences...the review was hilarious :)

Thumb up for trying the job and two thumbs up for quitting it :)

Sarah said...

haha love it! I've never been to Mildura, despite living in the same state. Its just too far away to get to! Did you ever make it down to Melbourne?

Steph said...

Oh lordy, you have some gonads woman, I wouldn't have lasted even one night there!

Peter sounds like a right prick, good for you for skipping out on the bastard!

Anika said...

Ahhh, laughed my arse off at this. Thank you for the laughs :)
I do feel sorry for you, I can only imagine the horror that is country Vic back in the day....nowadays its all chilled out and there are expectations! Unless you come across one of those type of 'fellows'.....

Lol @ your adventure....and are you coming back in November? Where will you visit? If you plan to visit Perth, please let me know so we can catch up :)

p.s. thank you so much!! I won!!! Yeeehaaaaw. Heh. I will carefully scour the racks and let you know ;)
(and I wouldn't take the clothes of your back, whaddaya think I'm like? :D)

Have a lovely day bellisima and thank you :D

Glitter Scrubs said...

Oooh a travel post! I've always wanted to go to Australia.. love hearing about the goods and the bads too. I always find recommendations of places to go, but first person accounts of places to stay away from are much appreciated!