PETER KRANZ | In Conjunction with Melanesian Fruit Pickers
It is the Pacific seasonal worker scheme and it offers a special visa to come to Australia to work on a farm for a few months.
It all sounded great. It presented an opportunity to experience life in rural Australia. It provided the chance to save money for the family back home. One thousand dollars a week was promised.
It was suggested that living conditions would be fine and that Australia would be welcoming.
The fruit pickers who assisted with this article arrived 50 km from nowhere and discovered their accommodation to be a dilapidated caravan from the 1960's. They had to pay for this.
There was no air-con and no mobile phone reception, the only amenities being a two- ring gas cooker, a flea ridden bed and a shared toilet block.
So this is life for the fruit pickers enticed to back o’ beyond Australia on special visas.
And these visas are hard to secure. "We want your passport; your immigration permit; your birth certificate; your police clearance."
You quickly realise that where you’ve been assigned is not some Gold Coast paradise. You can't go anywhere as you are two hours drive from the nearest town.
There are less facilities than you'd expect in a PNG village; the heat is 45 degrees, and you have to work 10 hours a day, six days a week to earn even half of what you were promised.
And you’re surrounded by flat desert - the monotony broken only by the odd irrigation channel which at least carries the smell of water.
You work pretty much from sunrise to sunset. You are surprised to realise you are paid only by picking enough fruit to fill a bucket the size of a tea chest - which earns you about $10. It is piecework.
On a good day you may fill five of these - but it depends on the fruit and the conditions. The heat is tremendous - beating down on your head, if you break for water it will lose you money.
At around 8pm you get back to the caravan exhausted and too tired to prepare food - so you crunch on some Twisties, collapse to the smelly old mattress and fall into unconsciousness.
Next morning it's up at 6 to repeat the same process, until Sunday when you get the day off to attend church. But of course you don't earn any money on Sunday.
Maybe you can catch a bus to town and spend a few dollars on provisions and an ice cream. So how much does that leave left for your family? $200-300 for six days of backbreaking, heartbreaking, desolate, dry-as-hell, hot-as-Hades work for some Australian farmer.
This is the reality for seasonal fruit pickers in Australia in a scheme lauded by the Australian government as an innovative breakthrough program. Maybe colonialism was better.