From state to state we search:
After 2 weeks in Melbourne and setting up Rocky we were ready to hit the road. After being told by a few people that there was plenty of seasonal work, and lining up work with a mandarin contractor, we decided that Mildura was a good place to start. So we headed 550km inland to northern Victoria. After 3 days of slow travel, lots of kangaroos and some regional parks we arrived to Big Lizzie, a big steam train and the town attraction of Red Cliffs. Within 30 minutes of arriving we were being handed page after page after page of contract and health and safety and bag snip deposit from the supervisor, a friendly kiwi lady who thinks all is “too easy”. It wasn’t until 3 days later after working a 6 hour day for $40 each and filling only 2 bins that we realised that it wasn’t “too easy” to make pennies in the mandarin business. The work is not hard but it takes time and when you have no experience in this particular picking – and on your second day you are told to take your finger out of your arse or you’ll be kicked out – you start to realise that maybe the mandarin world isn’t for you.
Upon passing an organic farm and asking if they need workers we found ourselves out of town on another farm picking some oranges. Not making much more money here but having free access to a shower and toilet, and a shed to make meals in, we were making an improvement from our first few days. Bit by bit. Again Jono the farm manager thought all was “too easy” as we picked away in a more relaxed environment until we arrived to a day where we didn’t want to stay an extra hour and a half for $23 (between us). It was then that we realised that we had almost worked 9 days in a row and didn’t have much to show for it (averaging about $4 an hour each). We now wished the rain to return. And it did. The forecast said rain for a few days but somehow that turned into a week without work (the farm manager had gone to Melbourne to make the most of the rainy weather and party). We were beginning to feel slightly trapped. Then we found a job packing Asparagus in a warehouse down the road. After some odd correspondence with the manager we worked there for an afternoon and saw that it was easy money and easy work as long as you can keep yourself sane while doing the same thing all day over and over. We were happy – a chance to make some money to relocate for better job prospects. We were told that there was a day of work for one of us the next day then a full day for both of us on Friday and then there should be at least 2 weeks work, and then the season had another 6 weeks after that. Great, we thought. 7am the next morning a text arrived. “Morning Sarah, Very sorry but there will be no work… It just a cost I can’t afford now. I will have to work harder and longer! I really appreciate your help yesterday.” This was a final moment in the area of Mildura. We were over it and decided we needed to break free for our luck to change.
So after using all contacts for a helping hand we ended up on the road to Adelong, New South Wales. A friendly Kiwi and family friend opened her home to us and offered a place to stay while we searching for work in the area. There seemed to be a lot more opportunities in that region. So we packed up, said goodbye to the shed that had sheltered us for the last 10 days and headed 650km towards the east coast. On arrival the excited grandchildren Culley and Hugh ran out with a welcome picture they had made for us. We felt out luck had changed as we spent 2 days being spoilt before heading out to a country home in the Gilmore Valley where we were able to house sit for 2 weeks and search for work. It was nice to spend a few days cooking in a kitchen and having a bedroom to sleep in. However, a job we had applied for near Adelaide finally replied, they were still looking for workers for the grain harvest. A large company called Viterra has processing plants all over South Australia and Western Victoria. An opportunity to work the harvest from October to January with potential for ongoing roles. Yes!, we thought as we were given interview times and both a Kiwi and a Gaucho would be able to get work at the same processing plant. Full-time hourly pay for a few months was just what we needed to continue our Australian adventure.
So we said goodbye to the comfort of the country home where we had not even begun to enjoy the fruits of housesitting and we travelled 1000km to South Australia for the interview. We arrived at a run down lentil processing plant in the North of Adelaide and had a joint interview with a manager who asked what we had to bring to the role before explaining the role to us. It would be about 10 days until we found out whether we were successful – then we would need to do a medical, online training and induction to start work in mid-October. So now we find ourselves searching for casual work, floating around the region of Adelaide chasing any opportunity or wedding to work at or cheap location to pass our days while we wait for the results of our interview.
On arriving to Mildura after a few days travel a Gaucho found himself in a horrid situation. Sleeping on a thin mattress for a week can do terrible things for your back after driving all day. Gaucho found himself with a dehydrated disk. Unable to walk, sit or move he was driven around by a Kiwi while lying in the back (there are many positives to having a bed in the back of your vehicle) and taken to the doctors. This may have been one of the most unhelpful experiences – a Gaucho was given a prescription that made the pharmacist call the doctor to lessen the dose as she didn’t think he would wake up after taking all the prescribed pills. We began daily back exercises and walks along riversides to ease the pain and get some movement. Not sure if carrying 10kg bags of oranges up and down a ladder for a week helped much at all. As a traveller on the road sometimes exercise gets overlooked. This was a great wake up call to know that something needed to change and that exercise needed to become part of our travel routine.
After over a week of extreme discomfort, calls made to almost every motel or hotel in Mildura to see if they had any double mattresses for sale, and visits to all second hand stores in the area we finally found a hard mattress. On removing the flimsy mattress we had been using excitement rose as we realised that this new purchase should make a drastic change to the nights sleep. And it has! Though the lesson has been learnt – and the exercises will continue.
We meet some fellow Toyota Hiace travellers at the Greater Bendigo Regional Park, an old couple from Tasmania who have their van set up to travel for months at a time around Aussie. They warned us about the rain on the murray river so on our first night in Mildura when we heard the rain falling upon us as we were parked up along the riverside we considered our options. We decided to get up at 6am and drive out of there to prevent getting stuck. What a great decision! We returned later that night to find a uneven surface of mud which we realised just a moment too late. We were stuck. Not knowing what to do as the night slowly approached and darkness set in we began collecting sticks to support the wheel and release it from the red clay that it gently sunk into. As we began to feel quite unprepared to camp in the middle of the road for the night a truck approached and some locals saved us from our strife, towing us out and back to the road. After realised that I left my shoes next to the sinking pit when changing to my gumboots we had to turn back, park on the road and walk in with a torch in search of my running shoes. Happy as we were, no longer stuck in the mud, we strolled into the darkness. All of a sudden from nowhere a vicious dog ran out and began barking his head off at us. We stopped. Stood still. Started to slowly walk backwards. Talked calmly and nervously spoke to each other as we began stepping back towards the car. Didn’t really need my running shoes anyway. Luckily as we slowly moved back the dog stayed where he was and we were safe. As our accommodation options all included potential similar situations it was our first night after a week in the van where we paid to stay at a campground. $20 to use the toilets and showers and to park on a sturdy surface. This was the first time of many that our trusty Rocky has got himself into a difficult situation, getting “bogged in” as they call it here – luckily always to be assisted and saved from friendly locals.
There are a few challenges to overcome but to travel and live on four wheels has a real charm to it and is good fun. There is a real freedom as you set off on the road with all you need for a few days. 15 litres of water, couscous, pasta, cheese, vegetables, fruit, bread and eggs. Gas for the cooker. A companion to feel safe when arriving to seemingly abandoned areas in national parks at night. A tank of petrol and a desire to explore. The Dark Side of the Van Life is not a true darkness of suffering but all part of the experience that makes you enjoy the simple things in life – like a hot shower, a hot chocolate on a rainy day and the true freedom of an open road that can can change at every curve. Like The Dark Side of The Moon, there also lies a bright light. Along with some of the places we go and sights we see another bright side of the van life is the food! A constant enjoyment each day. Coming soon – more about VanLife Food!