I wrote this article a long time ago, and it was a pure translation of my article in French. It was also my first article written in English and I really didn’t like it. First of all, it was way too short for everything we did there, and while I was explaining in length the job, I barely mentioned the road trip Dante and I did, yet, it is the main thing I remember now.
So, what’s that about the Red Devil on Fire?
Hell? Hell no! I present to you: cherry-picking (red, got it? sounds pastoral, doesn’t it?) in Tasmania (the devil we did not see) during the bush-fires season.
Cherry-picking experience in New Norfolk
From day one, when Aurélie and I set afoot on Australia, we have been told ‘you have to go to Tasmania’, period. Blindly obedient, so did we.
Or rather, so did I and Dante, with whom I travel since Brisbane. From the very beginning, it was already meant to be promising: uglee (the temporary name of our van) decided that from Brisbane to Melbourne was already enough or maybe he loved Melbourne too much or maybe he had a fear of boats, indeed, just before going onboard on the ferry, right after the security check and our tickets handed out, Dante noticed coolant on the ground. Panicking a bit, we parked on the side and when we opened the bonnet, some steam suddenly came out the engine. Dante began to ‘play’ with some cables. To be more specific, one tube cracked (one for the coolant). Dante noticed that another tube was unnecessarily long, so he cut it and used it to plug it instead of the one that cracked. Needless to say that his sometimes weird ingenuity was very welcomed!
After a 9-hours-day-ferry to Devonport, we arrive pretty late. We find a free place to sleep thanks to “wikicamps” app (I love you, wikicamps dev ♡) in our beautiful uglee since we have to go early the next day to New Norfolk (nearby Hobart) where we have to sign our working contract. But if I need one reason to feel good to be in Tasmania (there are plenty, no need to look for one), it is for the distances between two places that are now back to “normal” (if anything defines normal). Yet, these two places are still three hours apart, so no time to waste!
We arrive there right on time to start the induction, where we meet our good ol’ friends Aurélie & Agustín and are introduced to where we will live within the next weeks, which is a campground with about a hundred people in teepee tents. Marketing-wise, they did a pretty good job to promote their campground thanks to a short video filmed by a drone. So maybe it’s very aesthetic indeed, yet it is absolutely not ergonomic: a central post holds the whole tent, which is really inconvenient as it’s always in the middle of the way. Still, our amazing queen size mattress narrowly fits (I would have slept in the van if that wasn’t the case anyway!). Whenever anyone walks by our tent, they stop for a few seconds with the envy look in their eyes: we do have the most comfortable bed in the camp. Dante even builds a neat corner to be protected from the rain with the tarp we have, and rain is not rare in Tasmania so that’s a very precious shelter especially when we want to have breakfast in the morning, while all the too-small common areas are assaulted. Besides, we are lucky enough to have an electric outlet post right next to our tent, making it easy to charge anything.
Before going there, I often heard people comparing it to Scotland and now I understand why. Indeed, just like this Celtic country (Scotland, a road trip around you awaits, rest assured), one single day can have the four seasons, hence some landscapes absolutely lush and gorgeous.
About the job now, picking cherries is not the hardest task in the world, but it’s not the most gratifying either, whether mentally or financially (the latter depending on each person… And I suppose the first one as well actually: but probably not for the majority). It’s a very repetitive one, where we have to fill lugs of 8 kg each. Here, your wage will vary upon the number of lugs you can collect. I am not someone who works well under pressure or competition. So, add to this the fact that cherries are fragile, sometimes small, sometimes smashed because of the rain or the sun, suddenly it becomes somewhat depressing. How many times have I seen myself just sitting on the ground, picking just a few cherries that were in my range, or taking a break? Far too many.
Like here, That’s me during one of those too many breaks →
Moreover, our direct bosses were pretty much against the system (against enough to quit) and oddly enough, call me a paranoid, we always had the worst rows, plus some 3 or 20 spiders per tree, which can be a problem for some of us (Aurélie, you shouldn’t feel like I’m targeting you).
Picking is not only painful for the thumbs and the forefingers (or whatever thing you use to reproduce the same gesture thousands of times a day) but especially for the neck and the back where you always have to carry your lug while you pick. Even though like comparing with some other picking job we’re not knees on the ground but carrying these lugs sometimes high in the trees or going down or through the branches is a sport in itself. A sport that is not apparently a fair game since most of the people there don’t practice it, therefore Dante and I often find an almost empty tree in the middle, full on the extremities, making us even slower than we already are, because we like to do our job correctly and we are not looking forward going beyond one’s ability (to be clear: I like some challenges but not that kind of frustrating challenge), so I can let you guess our weekly wage.
We rarely pick when it’s raining or too sunny (so it doesn’t damage the cherries, not for our sake, bare this in mind) yet on these rare occasions will be forever engraved in my memory because of how at the antonym of ‘fun’ it is. Just so you can picture it, imagine rows flooded by water so when you have to go to different trees, you will likely fall in puddles, you and your lug: I can assure you that the feeling you’ve got at this point is a pure mix of anger and sadness. Sometimes, and now I laugh when thinking back but the puddles are so deep that the cherries that fall in there just disappear. Fun fact: did you know that they dry the cherries after heavy rain? And did you know how? With helicopters.
Now that I’m mentioning the weather, remember those tents? Do you also remember the aesthetic point I wrote about? To make pretty lines they are all set under the sun. When it’s too hot to pick, guess where else is too hot as well. They become real ovens, resting is completely impossible. And the ones who didn’t set a beautiful shelter like we did try to find a small spot of shade anywhere possible, often sitting against the boxes that serve as walls. That’s kind of interesting too. Also, while they set some star-shape tents, because of the wind, they fall two times.
If I can add anything to balance all of this, cherries are delicious. Well, not to be not too negative (it’s too late already, I know), this experience is nice and I don’t regret going there, despite the fact that I was one of the slowest. I will not be rich for sure, but the mood with everyone is good even though it’s not the best one I’ve ever had. Let’s forget about the hot water that didn’t work for two weeks or so and the stoves that didn’t work in the kitchen and life was great there. We mostly get along well with a German couple and a Dutch one and some other people. Oh and also, French people are in good numbers. Like, a lot: half of us is French. Apparently, we (the French) are pretty famous for being chauvinist, loud, rude and not good at languages, therefore we are not really appreciated by the other nationalities. Unfortunately in the camp, most of them seem to go along the rule. They are still nice, especially when they realize that Aurélie and I are French too. Argentinians are also present, maybe 10 or 15. Then Italian, Japanese, Chinese, English, some from the USA, Quebec, Chilean and Czechs are among the party.
During our days off, mostly with the Chrises (the German couple happened to have both the same name) and some others (Maëva and the Czech couple to name a few), we went to the gorgeous Mount Field National Park, with some waterfalls that reminds me an Elven forest: I only wish to spend more time there. We slept at the very quiet Teds Beach Campground.
Agustín, Aurélie, Dante and I also went kind of South-East during those days-off, to Cape Raoul and Port Arthur, where we saw from far away a seal colony!
Some of us in the campground go to spend Christmas Eve at Gordon Foreshore Reserve.
Sometimes, like painted vividly in the background, some bush-fires darken the sky which gives nice colours and photos.
Anyway, to summarize the situation of our job, we witnessed a small revolution inside the camp about some of the life conditions (ah, the French), so some workers have been fired (ah, capitalism). Also, the picking season is actually shorter than it should have been by at least 15 days.
We also used that time wisely, especially since we had so many days where we couldn’t pick and we could stop picking pretty much whenever we wanted or we would finish quite early anyway. So while the van already had a bed built inside, Dante didn’t like the way it was made: too much loss of space as the legs were taking all the room. Therefore, we built a new bed and took advantage to make a new kitchen as well from the scratch and that’s mostly thanks to Nathan, working at the cherry company!
Our road trip around the island
(I tried to attach a map but after publishing I noticed it didn’t work. I am still working on finding a good map website I could use to show the trips we did.)
Yet, if Tasmania will stick to my memories, it’s first and foremost for its sceneries. I can’t say why exactly, but after what everyone told me about Tasmania, I was expecting something outstandingly spectacular. But don’t mistaken me, it is marvelous, nature there is anything you can wish for, but you might be disappointed if you go there after going to New Zealand, according to Dante. Don’t compare it anyway (I am still learning that) as now I really miss it and wish to go back.
There we were, Dante and I exploring the isle from East to West in our newly rebuilt van. As we start our trip from Launceston (thank you for the free hot shower, city council ♡), we stop in the very ‘Scottish-like’ Ben Lomond National Park, one of my personal favourite places of Tasmania. Then from there, we go to St Helens Conservation Area, where one have to go to the island on low tide… And obviously, we almost got blocked there! Make sure not to disturb the local penguins though.
What is absolutely amazing in Australia is that so many free campgrounds are available and sometimes in some places you wouldn’t even imagine. Therefore, for example, we have the chance to sleep nearby Cloudy Bay beach on Bruny Island, where we meet an old sea lion (I even call the wildlife centre because it seemed a bit weak and not so wild anymore: they told me that his case was known) and some wallabies.
In the West, we can find this former mine where only a colourful lake is left at Iron Blow Lookout at Queenstown and obviously the wonderful Cradle Mountains National Park where many many treks are available.
One very important thing!Before you go exploring yourself this very special island with more than 20 parks: get yourself a ‘Parks pass’, it is expensive, but it’s worth it and I trust that they use the money wisely, or at least I hope.
And here is a small collection of some pictures in place I don’t remember: