Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Going Bananas in Far North Queensland

I've recently returned to my beloved Melbourne from 3 months in tropical North Queensland, and it's time to share a few insights from my experiences banana farming and burning the candle at both ends in Cairns before I embark on a 25-day Mother and Daughter escapade around Australasia.

As all backpackers know, you can extend your first Working Holiday Visa in Australia by doing 3 months (or 88 days) 'specified work' in a rural postcode. Intending to get mine out of the way before Mother's imminent arrival, I traveled to Innisfail, a small banana and sugar cane farming town an hour south of Cairns, to work on a farm owned by a friend's family. Arriving in the rain faced with depressing hostels and even more depressing testimonies from their inhabitants, my mood and optimism plummeted. On being rescued from the rain and checked into the newest hostel 'Backpackers Shack' by owner Nick, then arranging to start work only 3 days later (most others were waiting a fortnight), I was keen to get stuck in!

Here's a crass walk through of the banana farming jobs:

Trailers of bunches ready for processing!

Strong men do the banana 'humping' (yes, you read that correctly) to get the huge heavy bunches from the trees onto trailers and into the packing sheds. The bunches are released from their bungy cords, the bags sheltering them are untied and their stem is chained ready to be hung up- my favourite tasks as you got to move around and could at any time discover frogs, toads, spiders, snakes and other lovely surprises!

They are de-bagged (you will be splattered with rat poo and questionable liquids) before they go through a banana version of a car wash, and get cut into 'hands' and further into 'clusters'.

These clusters are sorted as they move along a soapy conveyor belt to weed out any less-than-perfect bananas- cue judgmental categorization of the ugly, bruised, cut, diseased and freaky co-joined fingers, with different 'grades' and sizes separated at break-wrist speed.

Next- the packers place 14kg of bananas into pre-assembled boxes, a boring job perfect for anyone who likes Tetris. I do not. I also got to assemble the boxes, poke a broken button to dispense glue while it was faulty, and separate boxes that were stuck together by a faulty tape machine- variety is the spice of life and all!

Honestly though, my time banana farming wasn't as bad as everyone complained it was during our regimented breaks, Innisfail wasn't as boring as everyone else in my hostel seemed to think it was, and it wasn't the farm's fault I had to be laid off after two weeks when the harvest was slow. C'est la vie!

I joined a friend in Cairns and after hardheartedly and unsuccessfully trying to find a new farm job, I got sucked into the black hole of Cairns life and have only this week emerged out again; many friends richer, a little fatter and with a much more damaged liver!

Lagoon life :)

Cairns is a city with a small town vibe- everyone ends up knowing each other, you see the same people every day and you can walk practically anywhere you need to go. Most backpackers only really see the Lagoon (sunbathing mecca), the Esplanade (ocean front jogging haven), Cairns Central (air-conned shopping centre) a few watering holes (mostly The Woolshed and Gilligans), Woolworths and BWS.

AKA everything you need; Sun, Sea, Shopping, Sambuca, Sausages and Spirits.

While waiting to hear if I could have my Innisfail farming job back, I started working for free accommodation; most people clean their hostel, I blew up balloons in The Woolshed! Realising I also needed money too, I started selling T-shirts in Cairns Night Market a couple of nights a week for a friend of a friend at 

Wanting to fill my time further, I joined the Ultimate Party crew; selling tickets for and running bar crawls around the city on a double-decker bus. Not your average 9-5 jobs I know but I’ve realised I’m not really about that at this stage in my life! The banana harvest this year has been really poor so there was no more farming work to be had, hence staying in Cairns for the fastest 3 months of my life, but working 7 days a week and partying hard has finally caught up with me, so now I’m looking forward to a month off work travelling around with my dear Mother.

Anyone who knows me knows that it won't have been all work and no play though- since I’ve been in Cairns I have tickled turtles scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, felt the rush bungy jumping at AJ Hackett, have driven the Raging Thunder speed boat, zip-lined over a crocodile at Cairns Zoom, hung off the roof of the Casino, partied at Gilligan’s Sinners Ball, eaten delicious food and far too much Baskin Robbins ice-cream, listened to great live music, dived into beautiful waterfalls, rafted down rapids in a $15 K-mart dinghy, celebrated my 23rd with a big BBQ picnic, watched my friend play AFL at Cazalys stadium, bushwalked through rainforests, partied on Fitzroy island dressed as Santa, marveled at the Circus, browsed through Rusty’s market and laneway vintage shops (Coco Lane- The Best!), salsa danced in a carpark then on the Woolshed tables and made friends I know I’ll be in touch with for years.

Here are some snaps from my escapades!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Millaa Millaa Falls- FREEZING!
The Party Bus!

Bus Life!
Found Crush, AND Nemo!

Boom-netting, tighten your bikini first!

Me- hanging out with friends :p

I've just left the sun to meet my Mum in chilly Melbourne, and though I miss my Cairns family, I'm loving being back to the Australian city I first fell in love with. Wish me luck on the next phase of my adventure; Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Bali, Lombok then Darwin!

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