Right I’ve just had a big big coffee and I’m feeling a little zapped and I have spent the last fifteen seconds trying to think of a good introduction for this article (diary entry? Oh how I loathe the term ‘post’) but I couldn’t think of anything witty enough; I considered starting out with a humorous gothic horror parody where I envision you sitting in a darkened country mansion with me approaching the door draped in a sodden overcoat and drooping hat and declaring I had a dark tale to tell – I thought it seemed quite clever – but I’ve started entries in a similar manner before and it isn’t original enough for my mood, and so rather than begin this entry in such a style, I have instead opted to do this – that is, to waffle on without achieving anything at all for, oh, about one hundred and fifty words.
Oh god I’m delirious. I don’t do drugs anymore, did you know that? I don’t smoke weed or do pills or powders or anything (although to be honest this isn’t due to maturity or willpower, merely a lack of access). Instead I just drink coffee and go mad. Hooweeeeee! Must finish this article before the coffee wears off and I get sad and sleepy.
Right. What is new at the farm? Nothing and everything. Mostly everyone but your humble narrator has coupled up and calmed down, which means the weekends are less boozy now, as everybody is busy being entwined with or inside one another. I have become the resident drunk, the permanently plastered pissed up bastard, because there isn’t much else to do. And though that may sound bad, you needn’t worry. I am very happy. I am not an alcoholic, I am an alcophile. You eat cheese all the time. Are you addicted to cheese? Do you need cheese? You are not, and you do not. You just enjoy it.
The newly born country Daniel, who wrote such giddily titled articles such as ‘Hard Work and Hope’ two months ago, has been murdered. Or rather, he was never alive. He was a shadow. He was a charlatan, and a fraudster, a quack, and an imposter. When I arrived at this farm I was desperate to be liked, and I spent my days lugging wood about and pretending to be interested in how cars work. I am not interested in how cars work. I am interested in the things I have always been interested in, like the way words sound and the biographies of troubled authors and juvenile debauchery, and blasting guitars and golden retrievers and long-winded historical facts and Emilia Clarke’s brilliant face.
I feel much happier for realising that I don’t have to please anyone else. The owner of this hostel, Mal, is a big tough man and for a while I felt the need to prove that I was big and tough and could graft and whatnot; I tried to win his approval, and for a time I did win it. And then we had some ups and downs and I just… stopped caring whether I had it or not. And that suits me much better. If you find yourself in an uphill struggle to win someone’s respect, even if you summit that mountain you’ll always be at risk of tumbling back down again. I’ve often found that once you stop trying to scale the mountain of their approval, they’ll often get bored up there all alone in their lofty eyrie wander down to meet you of their own accord.
Well, that concludes the introspective portion of today’s scribbling. Now I shall thrill you naked with some farmhand goings-on.
We have been in a drought for around five weeks – no single day of rain. This wouldn’t be ideal at the best of times, but considering we are living off the grid and drink the rainwater and shower with dam water, times have gotten rather tough. For weeks we were forced to do the washing up in a bucket, to shower standing in another slightly larger bucket, and to avoid flushing the toilet whenever possible. If it’s yellow let it mellow, and all that – quite literal – crap.
I went on a jungle hike with Minh, Ben, Seth and Kata a few weekends ago, driving one hour away to a revered Aboriginal ground called the Three Sisters for three enormous boulders that are perched atop a cliff there. The jungle is thick, and our quintet ventured in alongside another dozen or so we know from work, led by Will, who lives in a house out near the bush and is the kind of man who would call a boa constrictor ‘a beauty’ as it engulfed him. Will brought a machete the size of my arm along with him, and kept it in a scabbard at his waist.
We chopped through the thickest of the bush and spent an hour or two scaling rocks and dodging the dreaded stinging trees, because of course the trees sting you in Australia. We kept an eye out for snakes, as the weather is getting warmer and they are slowly waking up. There have been four sightings of big snakes around the farm so far. In the heart of the jungle we found a dead fig tree that must have been forty metres tall, it was one of the biggest trees I have ever seen. We had a brief lunch sitting on its gargantuan roots, but didn’t hang about long in case one of its leviathan boughs snapped off and crushed us all in one fell smack.
When we drove home to our hostel, a good hour away, we found that a bush fire had got out of control and burned a solid square mile of earth all along the main road. Tabulam and its surrounding grasslands had been transformed into Mordor. It’s eerie how easily fire can start and spread out here – if it reached the forest that surrounds our hostel we’d be safely buggered.
That night we went to a party in Bonalbo, a small village some 45 minutes away by car. It was everything you hope a party will be. The venue was a converted old butcher’s shop, now decked out with sofas and beds and beer pong tables – though still retaining the walk-in fridge and several old meat racks. The night was one of dancing and drinking, of course, and at around one in the morning I decided it would be an enjoyable idea to challenge Seth to a punch off – that is, to punch one another in the arm as hard as possible in turn until one of us tapped out. Of course we were drunk, and neither of us tapped out for a solid fifteen minutes of beating until we called it a draw. I woke up the next morning with the biggest bruise I’ve ever had in my life all down my arm. I passed the afternoon Googling ‘can you die from a bruise?’
The rains came a few days later, finally, and saved us all from being smelly and thirsty. However, in an astoundingly cruel irony the water tank exploded after all the precipitation, and plunged us into chaos. Ben and Minh were spooning in the opposite bed, and I was playing white noise through my headphones to drown out the uncomfortable noises of their rampant canoodling. Then came an almighty crash, as if a wanton skydiver had forgotten to open their parachute and had thumped into the thin metal roof over our heads. We thought it was thunder at first, but it was far too loud for thunder. The three of us ran outside in the rain and found the tank beside the house had ballooned and burst, and all 5,000 litres of water held within rolled forth in a great tsunami and doused the belongings of everybody camping on the site. There was much wringing out of socks that night, and Koen’s laptop was slain. RIP.
In other news, work is shit and I hate it. We are paid by the kilogram of blueberries we pick, at a rate of around 10 dollars per bucket. Nine times out of ten it takes close to an hour to fill a bucket. This means that over the course of a good day I earn 100 dollars, around half the sodding minimum wage. We are not paid for any second we are not picking berries, and due to poor management we are often left standing around for an hour at a time, earning not a cent. Yesterday I made ten dollars in three hours. Three dollars an hour. It’s rather hard to keep yourself chipper and motivated when your wage drops this low. Time and time again I have been [ this ] close to storming off, feeling I am being made a fool of, but have stayed in the field working because, well, I need to eat. No money and a sliver of pride or a sliver of money and no pride?
Well, yesterday was a sweltering afternoon in the fields under a beaming sun. I worked from nine until noon, by which time I had earned about fourteen dollars. Silently fuming, I went for a cigarette break with a Fijian girl from my team to calm down. I failed quite spectacularly in this endeavour and instead saw red, embraced my inner Guevara. I told my boss that the work way we were being treated was an insult, and I wasn’t going to continue to work while being made a fool of. I wished him a lovely weekend, and went home.
I met Ben, Seth and the others at the pub an hour or two later. I had hitchhiked my way there, then passed the time sitting and stewing. I’d been paid for the previous week’s work – the princely sum of about one hundred and thirty English pounds, which after food and rent, left me with about fifteen quid for my savings. At this rate I’ll be grounded in the outback for the rest of my youth. Many backpackers here are the same. They arrive here with their savings and promises that things will pick up soon when the weather warms, and two months later, just like me, they are penniless and stranded. But I have four possible plans, because I am Very Clever.
I’m torn on what to do, because on the one hand taking a genuine stand and organising some kind of uprising among the workers seems like the right thing to do – and also quite fun. It’d be great to pen a letter to management demanding improved pay and conditions, then get it signed by all the workers with threat of a strike. Buuuut then again… why do I care? It’s not as if it’s going to affect life long-term – I’m just passing through this town. I’m not Yul Brynner or Steve McQueen. If need be I can always just hitchhike away and crash with friends in Melbourne.
The third option is to apply for a role as a supervisor, hourly paid. I could get it easily enough because I speak English as a first language – many don’t – and Ben and Seth already have roles higher up. I don’t like this option, however. It feels like selling out, because I would only fix the shitty wage problem for myself and leave everyone else behind. I’m still deciding what is best, and what my priorities are. I wonder how honourable I am? I wonder how much any of this even matters? Of course to me right now the farm and hostel are my entire universe, so the importance of this issue is quite warped.
The final option is to slug it out here for a few more weeks and write a few articles for various magazines back home, then save all the freelance money I earn and spend only the shitty blueberry money. I reckon a thousand bucks would be enough to leave here and make a good go of it in Melbourne. I am insanely giddy to get back to city living. Strangers, shops, libraries, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, cinemas, swimming pools, gyms, fucking whatever you like – living among all that stuff is so distant. You should see us now, our hostel family, when we head out on those rare occasions into wider society. We are all so tight, so bound to one another, that we are visibly giddy and flustered when speaking to outsiders. At this point I barely recall what it felt like to take a shower longer than two minutes, or to use a toaster, or browse the internet. I have enjoyed living off the grid for approaching a quarter of this year – holy shit that went fast – but I cannot wait to plough back into city livin’.