21. Old MacDonald

This whole ‘pick apples and we’ll give you another year’ scheme is nonsense. I want to stay another year in Australia, ergo I’m immediately inducted into a broken system that seems hellbent against reason.

I have to complete 88 days of farm work. It can be fruit picking, fruit packing, mining (actual digging), construction, tree planting, tree felling, working with farm animals (directly), and sometimes disaster relief. The gist is, it’s mostly seasonal work available in mostly rural areas. But not just rural, it’s gotta be within a list of acceptable postcodes. This last part makes it tricky. So off to the county I go.

When I think of rural Victoria, I think of the whole state like a giant spiderweb. At its heart, Melbourne, a growing and bustling city. The father out you go, the smaller the nodes become. Civilization drags on and dwindles, stretching until its last, meager breath. Where I was today was actually a few notches above nothing. Definitely a far cry from a rural outpost. It’s got mom and pop shops, a strong retail market and decent transit. It’s even got the largest KFC I’ve seen in a while, probably former corporate real estate venture that dried up. And strangely, it thrives. It would be as if Brockville, Ontario were suddenly the place to be. Very different from what I was expecting.

So cut to my adventure today:

I woke up super early and got to Southern Cross station. I hopped on the train, which was actually quite easy to snooze in. Quick transition to a coach bus, and voila. I’m in Brockville – I mean, Shepparton.

A sweltering walk in hot jeans led me to today’s Mecca – MADEC. This part was exactly like I pictured, office-like, cheap, grey, supposedly cheerful seats. I was greeted and told to sit and wait for an intake form for work. Finally I felt as though I was brushing up against some sort of system – some structure I realized I sorely missed. I was asked and confirmed yes, I was a working holiday visa and yes I was looking for a second year.

I was whisked into a narrow hallway and asked for my passport. In the hallway. Not at the desk I just saw. After dropping and shuffling through my bags, my details were copied out (which could have been done online, I grumbled). I stood in the same hallway for a photo. This was for my madec card I learned. I was then told to sit through a (mediocre) recorded presentation on fruit picking.

When I first came in, a distant voice was droning on about not smoking near the workplace, which I dutifully tuned out. Don’t smoke, won’t, never will. But this was only the first bit. I was given an induction sheet, which turned out to be a multiple choice quiz to make sure you’re paying attention. The presentation was narrated by an Australian woman speaking very matter of factly about not pooping next to fruit trees (use washrooms provided whilst sitting correctly on toilet seat), the importance of hand washing (answer d) all of the above), and right of ways with tractors (they’ll crush you). Don’t get me wrong, it was important but presented in a bone-headed, ‘well duh’ sort of way.

Anyway the presentation barely covered a fraction of what the woman was saying, maybe three short bullet points for each topic. And it was shown on the screen in small font, in English, Chinese, and two other languages I couldn’t identify. Fairly straightforward for me, but I had concerns.

As a native English speaker, I could tell I had an immediate advantage over the other two young women also there for their induction. I was able to ask questions about why I was only given one farmer to text and set up my first day, where local backpackers and motels where, and could they please email or call me first if something was available (turns out it’s first come, first serve, best of luck. There is no wait list or other way to do this better, apparently.)

So I trekked three hours for a piece of plastic, one phone number, and a promise of employment hopefully within the week. Thanks Shepparton.

I’m very aware of how I sound. The blind confidence, the assurance that I could walk into a recruitment agency and walk out with more of a plan is laughable. Every step of this journey requires effort. I keep forgetting that. While questions and concerns are answered and dismissed online, in practice it’s much more difficult. Like when getting an apartment, getting a job, printing pictures, transportation – and getting farmwork. All it takes is getting out there and hitting the pavement and rolling with the punches. There’s an applicable mixed metaphor for my situation I’m sure. Until then.

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