The first day working in the baking heat is by far the worst. Despite confidently strolling up on my first day towards the farm sheds, I didn’t really have a clue what to expect. I had bought a cheap hat from a local store, which was in fact their only hat and made me look like bit of a mushroom, but it did the job nonetheless.
I had received a text from a pineapple farm owner, Adam, the previous day saying there was some work available for me to do. Queensland summer was just starting, which meant enduring the scorching heat and sweltering humidity, but how bad could it be?
“Don’t forget to bring ya Smoko.” Adam told me with his Australian twang as I headed towards the jeep that first morning. “Don’t worry, I don’t smoke.” I replied. “Nah, ya food for the morning break, ya Smoko.” he chuckled back. “… Oh yeah, of course…” I stammered back. I already looked like an amateur and I hadn’t even started.
And by the end of the first day I was a mess. The old juice bottle I filled with water for the day wasn’t sufficient for the five hours in the morning of Australian Sun, and my long sleeved top and trousers were simply too thick. My head was singing by lunch, and that made the afternoon simply survival. When I got in my car to head home, I was just trying not to throw up. I had to be smarter for the next week.
I upgraded my gear over weekend, from new cool bags and lunch boxes to lightweight trousers and t shirts. It felt like I was like getting my kit for the new school year all over again. I stuck with mushroom hat though.
By the end of the following week (where temperatures reached 38 degrees on occasion), my body had started to adapt to the heat and I was coping fine. There were still moments where I questioned my sanity for leaving the air-conditioned comfort of my cafe and bar jobs, but I was beginning to enjoy my honest day’s work.
Laurie, an older man with plenty of nervous energy, and Cameron, who was the same age as myself and mainly talked about poker throughout the day, would help me out over my first few days. There isn’t much of interest to write about the fruit farming work that I was doing, but safe to say I could probably now tell you which is the ripest pineapple at your supermarket. I was known as ‘Pommy’ by most across the farm, which was fine by me. It didn’t take too long to settle into the routine, and the days passed by quickly towards the restful weekend.
Hot air rose from the baking pineapple beds, which was either a finely cooked red or yellow earth. We would be followed by the hum of insects throughout the day, but most other wildlife kept to itself. Rabbits and hares hopped through the beds, occasionally showing themselves. The snakes, however, would fortunately lurk around undetected and kept their distance. Spiders would weave their webs between the plants, so I would carefully sidestep any potential interaction if I saw one. It takes two years to grow a pineapple, which is weirdly longer than the pregnancy of whales, elephants (and humans!) I guess it’s why they taste so good.
Some of the workers had decades of experience in Australia’s farming industry – having weathered the sweltering summers over the years. All would voice the weather forecast with trepidation. I was relieved to hear everyone was concerned with the oncoming heat, and it wouldn’t only be me to suffer through the hotter days. I was working through the busy harvesting season, so one by one the pineapples beds were stripped from their crop, and we slowly replanted others.
There was just one other backpacker working on the farm like me, a Canadian called Cody. Fortunately, he was house-sitting for an Australian nearby, and offered me a bed at the house for free. I gleefully accepted, and was soon sleeping comfortable in a quiet farmhouse just a few kilometers down the road from the farm. Another stroke of luck from the travel Gods with that one.
Outside of work, I would find most comfort in enjoying the natural beauty of the surrounding areas. I would generally finish the week with a visit to Mount Ngungun, which provided the best sunset views, and occasionally drove up to Maleny, which overlooked the sun drenched farmlands and hazy mountains in the distance. Although this is by far the least interesting chapter of my adventure, it was certainly a necessary one. I constantly thought about travel, and carefully planned the next steps in my adventure. My funds slowly replenished, and I knew by Christmas my work will be complete and I would be on the road again. Just 30 days left now… 29…28…