Since leaving the dairy in August I’d been having fun and not thinking ahead too much. But all of a sudden I realised time was running out, and if I wanted to earn some more money before leaving Australia in March, I’d better get a job.
So while I was in Tamborine Mountain I went to the library one day and half-heartedly looked for work. There wasn’t much about in the area I wanted work in, except for one job in Bundaberg, posted a good few days before.
I tried ringing anyway and a guy called Ian answered the phone. I could barely understand a word he was saying in his thick Queensland accent, and getting information out of him about the work was hard, but he promised a job each for Chris and me at $21/hour.
Chris would be working on a sweet potato farm, and me, in a tomato packing shed. The snag? Accommodation was at the Workers and Divers Hostel and cost $235 a week, each. I really didn’t fancy sleeping in a shared dorm room so asked Ian if we could sleep in our van. He was kind enough to say yes and even gave a discount… the rent would now be $200 per week, each.
As we were pretty desperate to get a job quick I agreed and told Ian we had plans in Brisbane that weekend but could come on the Sunday night. He sounded unsure and said to call Sunday morning to confirm there were still jobs.
Hung over but enjoying our Sunday morning in the hotel, I called Ian, expecting all the jobs to be gone. “What are you doing, aren’t you on your way to Bundaberg yet?” he said. He’d clearly forgotten I’d say I’d call first! I explained we’d be there later that night, no way was I rushing out of the hotel! Part of me had wished the jobs would be taken, but maybe it was just meant to be.
After a 5 hour drive we arrived in Bundaberg and met Ian. On the journey I’d been doing my research, both on Ian and the hostel, and neither were good. People spoke about a dirty, run down hostel, full of bed bugs. They said Ian was a crazy guy with very strong religious views and had an over the top no alcohol policy. People had been thrown out in the middle of the night before for getting caught with a beer.
Face to face he pretty much met my expectations. He kept eyeballing Chris, as if he was trying to make him feel intimidated. He tried to get us to take rooms in the hostel and separate rooms at that. Before I reminded him, twice, that he said we could stay in our van. He eventually gave in.
Looking around the hostel I was pretty glad I wasn’t sleeping in there. It was dirty, loud, and absolutely packed full of people. The kitchen was a mess and the bathrooms were covered in mud. Only 2 of the many rooms had air con so I wasn’t even missing out on that.
The next day we started work in our separate jobs. I was working for a farm called Logans in their tomato packing shed. It was probably one of the worst jobs I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of farm work! The local Aussie women I worked with were rough. They’d smoke in the staff room, shout and swear at each other during work, shout and swear at me. I just don’t see what the need was, why were they all so stressed?
But the worst part was the repetitiveness of the job. Standing in the same spot, doing the same thing, for anything from 8-20 hours. Once you arrived you never knew how long the shift would be. Thank god I didn’t get to experience anything over 13 hours. But apparently the longer shifts happened, and if you complained, they’d always find someone else to take your job.
The other thing I couldn’t stand was how I wasn’t given a weekly rota. Each night I would have to check the hostel notice board to see if I was working the next day. Sometimes I’d get home after 10pm and check the board to see I was working at 7am the next day. No time to do anything.
And because of all this it was seriously making things hard for Chris and me. He never knew what time I’d be home; he’d often sit up waiting for me so we could eat together, even though he had to be up at 5.30am every day. And the worst part was the prospect of not having weekends off together. For that first week we were just passing each other.
I desperately wanted to work with Chris. He worked 5 days a week with weekends off. His shifts always started at 6.30am and ended by 4pm latest. The Aussies he worked with were nice and the farm treated the backpackers well. The only better thing about my job was the longer hours, but there’s much more to life than money! So when Chris told me that 2 German guys on the team were leaving at the end of the week I decided to approach Ian, many times.
The first time he mumbled, “we’ll see what we can do eh,” while walking away. The next time I got a bit more of a conversation out of him. It was like he didn’t want to do anything on my terms, and even though he’d probably already decided whether or not to give me the job, he wanted to make me wait. I made a point of politely asking him a few more times, and finally at the end of the week I was called to the office and asked to fill out paperwork to work at MRB sweet potato farm.
Since then things have been much better. The work’s been good, we’ve made friends with loads of people at the hostel (it really is a ‘we’re all in this together’ kind of thing), and although Ian is an absolute dick, he doesn’t bother us too much. At the weekends we surf rubbish waves at the beach (better than nothing), drink with friends at the hostel, go out to Bundaberg’s crappy club and bars and then have parties in the hostel pool when we get back.
But it is a case of making the best out of a bad situation. Simply put Bundaberg is a shit hole, and I’m going to dedicate my next post to telling you why!