I spent six weeks in the blueberry fields.
Time passed without me realizing it. From early December, here I am already at the end of January. And the season is over. For the first time since I left France, I worked in the harvest of blueberries. This little blue fruit filled with good things for your health. This little fruit for which I always had an attraction.
My first week of work in Tumbarumba, I spent as an assistant supervisor. I was helping Carol, an elderly woman who has been harvesting blueberries as a supervisor for thirty years. Our team was mainly black people. Most of the pickers are from African countries but have been living in Australia for quite some time. Louise, Ezekiel, Kashindi, Olabire, Benard, Alice, etc., were all very friendly. I liked them from the first moment.
Working in blueberries in December-January, it means working in the heat and under a blazing sun. When I registered as a picker, I told myself that my goal per day was to reach a harvest of 50kg. And I had never done a harvest season before. I clearly did not have my mind in the right place that day. I can not thank enough Angeline (farm management) for offering me the position of assistant-supervisor. Reaching 50kg a day is not for everyone. Only a third of the team reaches this level. And often only because they have experience. Some are harvesting each year. Under the sun every day, I don’t think I would have survived.
At the end of the first week, Nicu and Bruce, the farm managers offered me to become a supervisor! They were setting up two more teams and needed supervisors. Of course I accepted. My new team was this time composed exclusively of Asians. Mostly Taiwanese, some Koreans, a Hong Kong, a Chinese, a Malaysian, an Indonesian. We were located in Rosewood. The Costa company who own the blueberry farm has two farms in the Tumbarumba region: Taradale where the packing shed is and Rosewood. The fields in Rosewood are in the middle of a logging operation. It is a small island of tranquility.
My first week as a supervisor was a little less funny than the week before. Unlike very warm Africans, Asians are a little more distant. But fortunately I had Benjamin with me, my very friendly Taiwanese assistant, to discuss about everything and nothing during the day. And then the days went by and the atmosphere with the team greatly improved. Our routine with Ben and me was to weigh the trays filled with blueberries picked up by the pickers, record the number of kilos, check the quality of the fruits, make sure that everyone picked on the right bush, check that the bushes were well cleaned, etc.
Blueberries in Australia are not the blueberries that can be found in France in the mountains or wild blueberries that color my memories of a bicycle trip through Finland years ago. The fruits are twice the size of what can be seen in Europe. Costa has several fruit and vegetable farms across Australia. Blueberries grow in Tumbarumaba (NSW), Corindi (NSW), Tolga (QLD), Gingin (WA) and Devonport (TAS). Varied environments for a fruit that usually grows only in cool, mountainous climate.
In Tumbarumba we picked up Blue Rose, Denise and Briggita. Each farm has different varieties of blueberries. They have all been created in a laboratory by genetic manipulation so that the bushes produce large fruits, with different tastes and especially able to produce fruits in large quantity over a short period of time. The harvest season in Tumbarumba is barely 7 weeks, so the bushes must be able to keep up the pace.
The biggest problem for blueberry growers is the birds. They like to peck at the fruits causing a lot of damage. There are automatic rifles around the plantations that detonate every five minutes, but that does not scare the birds. And then there is the rain that gorges the fruit with water and makes them explode or the heat that dehydrates them and turns them into grannies covered with wrinkles prematurely. The end of the season this year was very average. The last three weeks of January have alternated between hot and torrential rain making the quality of fruit not so good.
Just a small mark or defect on a blueberry is enough for the fruit to be qualified as “second”. This means that it is not perfect enough to be sold to consumers in supermarkets. Great waste if you want my opinion. At least 10% of what is harvested is spread on the ground or crushed under the soles of the pickers. The rest of the seconds is fortunately sold to locals who want to buy it or sold as frozen fruit.
Working as a supervisor taught me many things about myself. Despite the fact that I often have trouble interacting with people around me, in the end I like working with others. With people from different countries. With people who have different cultures and ways of thinking. With people who make the exchange a discovery and a permanent questioning. Benjamin, Ming, Cynthia, G, Olivia, Victor, Howard, Shandi, Iris, Ken, Ran, Shuhei, Jack, Cinzia, Jill, Lesly, Thomas and everyone else, thanks for giving me another point of view on the world. And then, apparently according to my team, I am a good supervisor. I like things to go smoothly, respectfully and positively. So I tried to do the same with my team and that worked. Although it was just a simple job, the tasks being not very complicated, supervising a team of people and getting a positive result gave me confidence in myself and what I can do. Even if I knew it already, having the result in front of my eyes is perhaps what I needed to completely undo the disappointment left by the end of my stay in Arkaroola.
And then the region of Tumbarumba is really pretty. Wavy hills, mountain atmosphere, very pleasant village to live and a lot of places to visit full of surprises. The Yarrangobilly Caves, the beautiful Lake Blowering, the Paddys Fall waterfall … I did not have time to enjoy all but the many shared meals, barbecues and walks with my team and friends really made my stay very enjoyable.
On the last day just before leaving leaving Pauline, where I lived during the two months, I looked for the hundredth time at the beauty of the landscape spreading before my eyes. I felt my throat tie to the idea of leaving them, Pauline and Jack, her little white dog fond of caresses. For the first time in a long time I felt like leaving a place that I really loved. But the call for travelling was calling me. I left them, watching their silhouette dissolve in my rearview mirror and letting the last words of Pauline anchored in my heart:
“Come back any time”.