Fruit Picking and Farm Life in Tocumwal; It was pure accidental that I ended up in this small beautiful town, Tocumwal. Tocumwal is about two-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne. I went there with a friend of mine who had a job interview there (he was looking for regional sponsorship). Having seen how crowded Shepparton was with all the backpackers, I decided I might as well just stay in this town to try out my luck. I saw an ad sticking outside the IGA there, saying they were looking for farm hands. I called the number on the ad, and it was the farmer himself who picked up the call. That was how I got to work with this lovely farmer couple, Paul and Judy, in their small organic farm.
It was basically an olive farm, but they didn’t harvest those often, only a few times during the months I was there, and they usually had some other guys to pick them. I did get to sort the olives and pack the olive oil for a few times though, which was pretty awesome. Paul actually built all those sorting machines and many other stuff himself! Other than olives, they also grew other vegetables as well, such as zucchini, cucumbers, squash, rock melons, honeydew melons, and pumpkins, and these are the ones that I usually worked with. Every morning, I’d go to the field with Paul and Judy and a few other helpers and we all took turns picking and driving the tractor. Yeah, you heard me right. On my first day, Paul asked me if I ever drove a tractor before. I told him no, then he said, “Well, you’ll get to learn how today then!” So, yeah, everyone got to sit in the air-coned tractor and relaxed a bit during the picking. We didn’t rush to do the packing after we finished picking either. After the picking, we would have this “smoker time” where everybody will sit down for some tea/coffee and cookies. Judy always made sure there were enough cookies because the guys loved them so much. We would relax, catch up with others, and play with the puppies a bit. After smoker time, we’d start sorting and packing. One person would be standing on the high platform to sort the veggies and the others would do the packing. The veggies that were too big or not pretty enough would all go to a huge bin which would be brought to the cattle later. We were also welcome to take some home if we wanted. Sometimes, there would be some wild mushrooms growing on the ground somewhere in the farm. I would also pick those up and bring them home, but I always left at least one single mushroom on the ground so they would keep growing around.
Paul also found me a great place to stay. When I first went to the small town, my friend’s new boss helped us rent a room from an old couple. Paul happened to know another couple who had an empty, quaint, little one-room house, so he introduced me to the couple and I rented the house from them for a very great price. The house was fully equipped with a balcony, a front yard, and a back yard. I loved tending to my small veggie garden, and the flower plants sprouting out from the flower beds around the house when the season changed were a very welcoming surprise. The couple, Jane and Stan, was also very lovely people. Whether it was for cleaning or gardening, they always made sure I had whatever I needed. Every time I started something new to pass the time, they would always bring me new toys to aid my new projects. They also often invited me for tea or to join their family gatherings, and they’d share all those funny life stories and family jokes with me. Sometimes, I’d go to the “town beach” (the local sandy riverbank) with them, canoeing, or just enjoying the sun.
The town also had lots of wildlife around. It is not uncommon to see rabbits, kangaroos, those big parrots on the golf course there. There were always people fishing on the Murray River, Stan said there would be koalas on the trees by the riverbank at certain seasons. I once even saw a pair of peacock wandering in my back yard! (Someone told me they used to be somebody’s pets, but they got loose and just lived a semi-wild life now.)
I stayed in Tocumwal for about five months until it was time for me to go back to my own country. I truly enjoyed my time there a lot. Paul, Judy, Jane, Stan, everyone I met there were all very sweet, genuine people. I was really lucky to come to this nice little town, I even luckier to meet these awesome people. They certainly brightened my experience in Australia even more than it already was!