Mango Farm #2 - Arnhem Mangoes

Wednesday, October 28th 2009 - Sunday, December 27th 2009

So we were back in Darwin, back at Frog's Hollow Backpackers and disappointed with our current unemployed status and desperately looking for more work. I was tired of living in the Top End, the heat is terrible and I just wanted to get out of Darwin but we had free internet at the library and no way of heading to the west coast at the moment (although we were looking for jobs basically ANYWHERE). The job hunting got old very quickly and we were giving up hope and deeply considering relocating to the west coast for a change of scene when on the Saturday morning around 9am a man from the temp agency next door came into our hostel and asked 'Who wants to work packing mangoes?'. Unfortunately, I was in the shower at this time but Tyler was out in the common room area and jumped at the chance. And that is how we got our second mango farm job.

We had to pack up our stuff quick, sign some papers, watch a safety video that was falling apart from overuse and then the recruitment officer drove us to our new farm in a little town called Humpty Doo (which we were familiar with since that's where our previous mango farm was located). He told us that the job should go for 6-8 weeks, but once he was gone and we were talking to the managers of the farm they laughed and said that packing was almost over - not even a week left. We were angry at being lied to but made the most of it and worked a ton of hours and packed like crazy for that week. Since I had worked packing before they let me be on the 'grading' team, which means that I got to stand in the same spot for 10 hours and sort between good (1st grade) and alright (2nd grade) and unsellable (bulk/juice) mangoes. Tyler did lots of box lifting and crate moving - very good for muscle building.

There were tons of people here but after that week mostly everyone cleared out. People had the option of staying on for pruning season, so we decided to give it a go. There were about 10 of us who stayed - a mixture of mostly Germans, another Canadian girl, 2 people from Taiwan and a native Australian. And we also got 7 of the Indian guys who had been picking mangoes during the season. Pruning was pretty fun, there were basically 3 different tasks: pruning shears (for the low branches), a long hand saw (for the tall branches) and a rake (for all the fallen/cut branches to be raked into a pile with and eventually turned into wood chips by another machine). There was also a chainsaw team that went through the trees first. They were pretty hot days, but very satisfying. I had a heat rash for a little while because I was wearing too many layers (a tank top and a long sleeved shirt) but once I only wore the long sleeved shirt, the rash went away. We worked 7am until 4:30pm, half-hour lunch and the pruning lasted for all of November. The only bad part about this farm was that we had to pay a weekly rent for the containers we lived in which was $105/week whereas our rent was free at the previous farm. But we still saved a lot of money and learned how to make naan from the Indian guys, and samosas as well. Tyler perfected making breakfast pitas/flatbreads and we ate them every day for our morning break to give us energy. Hopefully he'll still make them when we come back home. :)

Our team for pruning was usually me, Tyler and a Taiwannese couple named Iris and Steven. We were known as the 'couples team'. We worked well together and everyone had their tasks that they liked to do. Steven was usually the saw man, Iris liked raking and Tyler and I would rotate with the pruning shears and the other rake. The pruning shears were my favourite but I would get bad finger cramps in the mornings, this started from packing at the Siah's farm - but it would go away by the time work started. Pruning was a good work-out though, definitely got some muscles from that month of hard work.

Basically everyone left after or during the pruning season but we were offered to be kept on for various farm tasks and upcoming centuring (chainsawing a ring around the trees to stop them from producing fruit too early) and cold tarring in January. So we are still working at Arnhem Mango farm and there is only Tyler, myself and a German girl named Anja left of the original pruning team. We have two Australian supervisors - Andrew and Darryl and the owner of the farm is a man named Barry who is very nice but very particular. We've done some gardening, fertilizing, fixing sprinklers, spraying herbicide and spraying insecticide for all the trees. I think there are around 10,000 trees on the farm so it has been pretty busy. We get to drive quad bikes and a golf-cart like car called a 'Gator' and Tyler even got to drive a big tractor for spraying insecticide on the trees (they were getting damaged by caterpillars). We're learning lots of new skills and enjoy working outside and getting our hands dirty for a change.

Farm life is not very exciting - we now work 6:30am until 3:30pm because of the afternoon rain that comes pretty much every day since it's officially the rainy season (although January is supposed to be the worst). We usually just have muesli for breakfast (with yogurt and mango while it lasts - there are no longer any left on the trees that are edible), then breakfast pitas around 9:30am for breaktime. Our lunch is usually leftovers from the day before (pasta, rice, curry, sandwiches, etc) and an apple for a snack. We have lots of time to make dinner so we're learning and experimenting with new dishes. We're pretty good at making curry now after our lessons during the road trip with our friends. And soup is always a classic for us, even in the hot weather.

We no longer have to pay rent now as they got rid of all the containers and we are living in the old group kitchen area. There are lots of fans and it's attached to an enclosed kitchen so we don't have to worry too much about bugs (the ants find their way into any place, they're very annoying), the mosquitoes were getting to be too much for us in the outside eating area at night time. We were covered in bites! So we're living comfortably. And we have an internet stick so as long as it's not too cloudy or stormy, we have a signal and can go on the internet. It's a nice luxury to have. We usually eat our dinner while watching the show 'How I Met Your Mother' that's on every night at 7pm, I'm addicted to it. And the only other show we watch regularly is 'Survivor' that's on for 2 hours every Tuesday night. We haven't watched it in years but it's pretty good this season and it's nice having something to watch regularly.

Aside from that I've been doing a lot of reading, whatever books have been left behind on the farm. And Tyler has been programming for fun and playing computer games. We also watch stuff on the computer to relax. And I'm in the process of writing all my Christmas cards, late I know, but they will get sent. It's a big task and tricky to get to the post office during office hours since we don't have a car and we're working but we have a week's vacation now and Darryl is going to take us out some days so I should be able to manage. I think we're going to get to go fishing, very excited about that. Tyler wants to catch enough to feed us for weeks. :)

Christmas day was pretty good, although not the same as home. I was disappointed because there were no Christmas movies on the 4 channels that we get on Christmas Eve, the closest I could find was 'Father of the Bride' so that's what I watched. I didn't get to see 'It's a Wonderful Life', that's one of my Christmas traditions. We made a Christmas tree out of a mango branch that Tyler and I found out in the orchard. We filled a pail with dirt and put the branch in it and then we all made little paper snowflakes and tied floss around them to hang them on the tree. Then we bought little gifts for each other and Anja and got to open them on Christmas morning after breakfast (french toast with brandy flavoured custard and some orange slices and chai tea to drink). We had a relaxing morning and made carrot muffins to take over to Darryl and his mother's new place for lunch. They invited us over for nibbles and conversation. It was a very nice afternoon and all 12 muffins got eaten so they were a bit hit. :) It felt more homey than if we had just stayed at the farm all isolated. And as per usual it rained in the afternoon on Christmas, but the morning was very nice.

So we have a week off to relax and hopefully not go crazy with nothing to do. We have to find ways to keep busy. Work should start in early January and I think we're already ready to start working again and making money - 3 days off is more than enough for us. We're hoping to go to Darwin for one of our days off and go to the movies, we haven't been in about 6 months and there are a lot of good movies out here. Keeping our fingers crossed.

Happy Holidays everyone! :)

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