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Picked it, Packed it, Buggered Off!
"Haere Mai, passive reader. I arrived in NZ last March and spent a couple of months in Auckland. During what is amusingly called ‘Winter’ in the Southern hemisphere (for the obvious yet still pleasantly foreign concept of it running from June to August), I began to travel around the North Island. Myself and my delightfully reckless new friend Pierre (yes, French) set off to the Bay of Plenty (of recent oil spill fame) to seek out opportunities in the traditional New Zealand seasonal vocation of Kiwi-picking. Te Puke, the kiwi fruit capital of the world, was where we found ourselves soon after. Checking in to the ‘Hairy Berry’ hostel it was a wonderful surprise to find that a drink fuelled, metal loving, Norse-cultured energy vibrated its walls. We were both soon revelling in late night sessions of testosterone fuelled excessive drinking, discussions on historical warfare and random acts of destruction to the pleasantly reminiscent thrashing of Slayer and the like.
A great deal of seasonal agriculture work can be found through the local hostels and motor parks within the respective area. After talking with a contact at the Hairy Berry we soon found ourselves packing Kiwi’s by the thousand in an enormous warehouse at Satara, one of several packhouse chains in the area; a line of work that did not pay particularly well but made up for it in the available hours (sometimes 60+). Its a monotonous environment, the air filled with kiwi fibres and the noise of conveyor machinery, but like many things its something you can get used to. Soon after this we tried our hand at the much more physically demanding (but equally more soul rewarding) actual picking of the Kiwis. We both moved into a caravan park on the other side of town for a much cheaper rent whose minor inconveniences could be resolved easily by a bit of forward planning ahead of the 20yard walk to the kitchen and the $5 purchase of a 2nd hand electric heater. Contracted to be paid by the value of a crate divided by how many people were picking to fill them, this inspired a motivation and impetus to pick the Kiwi’s, hanging between 5 and 7 feet off the ground, at a ferocious rate. Myself I achieved a truly joyful efficiency in grip-to-drop rate that must have amounted to around 3-4 pieces of fruit in the chest-mounted bag per second, filling the bag in about 4-5 minutes. At about $14 per crate, an average of 8 people per team and about 30-40 bags filling a crate... well, you do the maths.
The work was exhausting and on occasion annoyingly infrequent when the rain clouds appeared. But this was an authentically, and literally ‘Kiwi’ experience that I would never change. Pierre and I shared solidarity with each other and all others we met of a kind I believe can only be felt by those from lands far away, joined together and engaged in a sporadic physical labour on foreign shores. But much more than this, because of the PSA infection, a congenital disease that has now spread across almost the entire Kiwi industry in New Zealand, this seasonal work that has kept working-travellers flowing through this region for decades, may well entirely come to an end within the next four or five years according to many growers that we spoke to. For this reason alone, I feel privileged to have been a part of it".
Submitted by: Rob Cummins Date submitted: 20/12/2011 12:55:44 a.m.