Watching TV the other week, I flicked onto BBC1 and much to my surprise I saw John Bishop filming an episode of his programme John Bishop’s Australia in Innisfail which is the small town that I did my banana farming in. I felt very nostalgic watching it and it brought back many memories – some of which I try to forget, and some of which I’ll treasure forever.
Farming was never an area that I saw myself working in. Working in the outdoors wasn’t a priority of mine and bananas were never really my passion (whose passion are they?). That said though, I completed three months of banana farming and it was an unforgettable experience.
I’ll put it as best as I know how. At the time you may hate it (much like when your parents would tell you what to do and how to behave) but then when you look back, you really appreciate it.
There are typical jobs that most people are given when banana farming. Women generally tend to work in the shed ‘sorting’ bananas before they are packed whilst men are more likely to work in the paddocks ‘humping’ bananas i.e. balancing the heavy banana bunches on their shoulders from the tree to the trailer.
Briony sorting bananas One of the workers humping bananas
The job I did was slightly different. I was given a job as a ‘stool counter’ which involved counting and measuring trees – day in and day out. When you say to people that you were working outside in Australia, most people would rightfully assume that this meant you’d get a nice tan as you’d be outside all day. The reality of it is, if it was sunny, you’d be trying to hide amongst the trees because the sheer heat coming off of the sun would be enough to make you want to go insane. Other days though it was torrential rain, and not just for an hour – ALL day. Getting yourself dry wasn’t an option and you’d just have to grin and bear it. Nothing could save you from this rain, not even a poncho was your friend.
Let me take you through a day in the life of a ‘stool counter’:
6:45am – Wake up (roll out of bed) – have a mad rush throwing on some tatty (and most likely unclean clothes). You’d then go to put your wellies on and conveniently there would be one missing. You were then faced with the dilemma of having to ‘borrow’ someone else’s for the day (a different shoe size no doubt) or choose to sacrifice wearing and ruining the only pair of trainers that you own.
7am – Get picked up (and fall asleep in the car because you’re still a zombie)
7:45am – Arrive at the banana farm and get all the equipment ready for the day ahead
8am onwards – Spend the first half of the day counting trees, walking through spider webs and slipping in mud (to then lose your count and forget which tree you were at – *they all look the same!*)
11am – It’s finally time for ‘smoko’ (an Aussie slang word for a cigarette break – though non-smokers take this break too). As we’d be half way through our work at this point and because our break was so short, we often didn’t have time to go back to the shed. Instead, we would have our break sitting in the 4×4 we used to drive around the farm in. As this was the case, there was sadly no luxury of a bathroom. Off to the paddock it was then…
11:15am – Back to work and now to measure hundreds and hundreds of trees (you might be surprised to hear that there’s a specific measuring technique that we used for this. You may laugh but practice makes perfect and by the end of our three months we were all measuring banana trees like pros)
4pm – Home time, hallelujah
4:45pm – Get ‘home’ (the hostel) and run to the shower in order to try and beat the mad rush of fellow sweaty banana farm workers. Having to sit about for a few hours whilst the mud and sweat dries into your skin was never my idea of a good time.
9:30pm – Bed time – you’re too tired to function so whether you wanted to or not, you’d be asleep unsociably early
Here are some photos to give you a further glimpse into the banana farming, stool-counting world…
Sophie mastering the measuring technique
Our trusty mode of transport
One of the many banana farms we worked at