This article was written in 2013 about my farm work experience in Australia. I was working in Bedford Harbour Station in Western Australia.
14,000 Acres – The extent of the wheat and canola farm we work in (the property stretches for 20km and is 10km wide)
5km – The distance separating our house from the manager’s. We are the only people living here, the others are part time contractors that come and go.
7days – Working days of the week
70h – The average of working hours in a week
120km – The distance to the first inhabited town (the first 40km are on a dirt road)
54kb – The speed of our -very expensive- internet connection, which brings us back to the ’90s
4000 acres – The area to burn by the end of the month
The job consists of weaving randomly in the fields with the ute, one driving while the other one holds a fire-starter-bucket out of the window to burn the straw lines. By lighting up spots of straw here and there, the wind should do the rest and burn all the straw away. Obviously, it is never the case. That’s why we keep going back and forward through the smoking fields to “fill the gaps” which means burning everything like no tomorrow. As if this wasn’t stressing enough, when you burn the edges of the fields you have to make sure that the fire does not spread to the bush, degenerating into a massive fire. In short: the most relaxing job ever.
Well, it seems trivial to tell you about how terrifying it is to live with fire paranoia, working all day in the smoke, constantly smelling of diesel. I spend my day twisted out of the window, while holding the bloody fire starter with two hands because it’s too heavy. While in the meantime my boyfriend and/or the manager scream at me because I’m missing the lines / I can’t drive / I don’t understand what they say.
“There’s not much else to add,
it’s a nightmare.
Not to mention that when
the bush takes fire,
it’s a living hell for real.”
I hate every minute of this and I complain about it all the time. I’m unbearable and I know it, but I can’t do anything about it. It’s the worse job I ever had. Worse than standing motionlessly in a conference room for hours, worse than cleaning toilets, worse than hustling till morning in a night bar, worse than dealing with sclerotic children, worse than anything else I’ve ever done.
I’m sending so many silent prayers to the bush for not taking fire that I’m practically turning religious. But I won’t quit. Even if we are running out of food because we don’t have time off to go shopping, even if we come back from work so tired that we barely find the strength to eat and go to bed, even if we have to collect the drinking water from a fountain 2km from our place because tap water is not safe…
And I do it for one and only reason: When this job will be over, I will be rich. Richer than I have ever been in my life. I will have earned in a month much more than I earned in a year by working as a hostess. Forced labour won’t last forever and should allow us not to work for a while. The money will also fund our desert crossing! On the Great Central Road fuel can costs as much as 2.5 $ per litre!
Update: Since the boss promoted me to the fanciest ute, my life has improved a lot. Now I drive a new Hilux with a radio, air conditioner and an INTEGRATED FIRESTARTER. No jokes. You just push a button from inside of the car and the thing hooked behind the pick-up sparks fire! This way I light everything faster, with zero effort and without breathing almost any smoke. I also drive the tractor from time to time now. Things are getting better and our escape is closer.