The Travelling Student – Kookaburra

My name is Philip Kirkbride. I’m a college graduate from Ontario studying at AU. I’ve always wanted to do an exchange program or study abroad but never found the right time to do so. This is the story of how Athabasca University has allowed me to create my own study abroad program. In the last issue, Matt and I were hired by a cherry orchard in Young, Australia. After being hired we set up camp at the farm.
The first day started around 5:00am with me smothering my head with a pillow to drown out the cackling laugh of the Kookaburra. I’d become accustomed to the sound over the next few days but, like a buzzing alarm, it never gets any less annoying. After getting up I’d chug a breakfast drink and head for the showers. The farm workers, mostly travellers accustomed to the road, were extremely appreciative of the camp having hot showers.

At 5:30am we would head over to the farm office where we got on a shuttle bus that drove us into a giant orchard. After a few minutes, all that could be seen were rows of cherries as far as the eye could see. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to pick cherries. The main thing you have to watch for is to avoid pulling the stem out. The hard part is figuring out how to pick fast.

With a big box strapped to our stomachs we’d pick until it was full, mark the box, and set it down to be picked up by an ATV. Every time we picked a box we made $12. The boxes gathered by an ATV would be brought to the warehouse where they would be sorted based on quality. We were told that a lot of the cherries would be exported to Asia where they fetch a high price.

The hardest part about picking cherries is the heat. It didn’t take long after the sun came up to reach 20C. Instead of picking until a certain time we’d pick until the temperature rose to about 30C (usually not long after noon). At that point we were exhausted and sweating buckets. The first day we worked about 6 hours and I picked 8 boxes of cherries. That worked out to around $15 an hour. While Australians usually get paid about $18/hour for physical labour, $15/hour isn’t bad by Canadian standards.

As the season progressed many of workers would start picking faster. Not surprisingly, Matt was one of the fastest. By the end of the season he was averaging over $30/hour. Not bad at all, especially considering the first $18,200 you make on your working holiday is 100% tax free!

The camp rules stated that we couldn’t drink on site, but when Matt showed up with a 24 pack of XXXX (a popular Australian beer) not a single one of our neighbours turned down the offer. We sat in a circle and each person shared the adventure they’d taken to get there. Some, like myself, had just arrived in Australia, while others had been there over a year and done all kinds of odd jobs.

Around 8:00pm people started heading back to their tents. We all wanted to stay up drinking, but we knew we’d soon be woken by the Kookaburra’s laugh.