It’s a Saturday evening and we’re under the stars by the campfire. We’ve joined some friends on the banks of Bradys Lake in Tasmania’s Central Highlands where we are to spend a few days.
The night is crisp as we watch the moonrise but the fire keeps us warm.
Though, the weekend didn’t start off quite this idyllic.
A few weeks prior I bumped into an old friend at the hardware store in Hobart, still as cantankerous as I remembered him. He told us he was preparing for the upcoming vintage at his family’s vineyard on the East Coast. Relying on backpacker labour and with international borders closed they were having a hard time finding workers to pick the grapes. So, Steph and I dutifully offered our services.
Fast forward to a few days ago and we arrived on the farm with Willow. It was going to be an early start the next day so we drove to a camp in one of the far paddocks and parked up near an old hut. Willow sat in the grass and watched over her new camp as Steph and I cooked dinner.
The next morning the sunrise over Great Oyster Bay was enchanting. The sun rose over The Hazards across the water and I remembered the many summers I had spent up there as a child.
But, there wasn’t time to sit and stare at the scenery. With Willow still tucked up in bed we drove the van across the farm to the vineyard where we were given a pair of scissors and a row of grapes each.
About 14 other pickers were on hand and the vineyard was abuzz with the sound of snips and fruit hitting the buckets.
Steph and I worked our way down the outer aisles snipping away at the bunches as we put them in our buckets. As the buckets filled they were then emptied into the bins with our tallies recorded.
As I neared half way down the 200 metre row I looked into the vineyard and saw the luscious fruit on the other aisles. As my old friend walked by I realised I’d been duped.
There’s no fruit on this row. Let me know when I can move to a different row, I said.
I’ll see it fit in about 100 metres, he retorted with that ol’ chip on his shoulder still plain to see.
Back on the blueberry farm over summer I was able to earn $30+ an hour with my fast handling of the fruit. So, I did the maths in my head. At this vineyard at $3.80 per bucket we would be lucky to make a miserable $10 an hour!
Nevertheless, we continued on and I did finish that row before moving onto another more fruitful aisle. But by then it was too late in the day to make any money. The sun was setting and the last of the buckets were being emptied into the bins before being placed onto the truck.
After 11 hours work at about $14 an hour we retired for the evening. The truck loaded the last bin before leaving the farm, and the other pickers headed off home, stroking their aching backs.
We sat around the tally table and shared a beer with my friend and his mum who had been managing the tallies for the day. Steph and I were exhausted as we listened to them share stories of their dealings with their Airbnb guests and their general dislike for human beings in general.
I tried to steer the conversation toward brighter matters and asked them about the farm.
You realise it’s is and not are, don’t you? That’s gone right over your head hasn’t it? He conceited.
Yes, it had gone over my head. After 11 hours hard labour my ability to string a sentence together had, believe it or not, somewhat diminished.
We’d just driven all the way up here from Hobart for a lousy day’s work and you want to correct my gramma you wretched soul, I said under my breath, for misery attracts misery – if you let it.
So with the thought of spending any more time with those miserable sods, and our dream of becoming vineyard virtuosos turning into sour grapes we called it a night.
The next morning Steph and I were in a bit of quandary. We’d driven all this way up the coast and were now at a loose end. The solution was simple. Our friends were camping by the lake in the highlands. It was 3 hours away but good friends are worth the drive.
So there we were. Sitting around the campfire at the edge of the lake, good friends in company and Steph’s campfire sourdough having filled out bellies.
Earlier in the afternoon Willow enjoyed climbing on the rocks by the foreshore as I got the camera out. She posed next to the Buttongrass as I took some snaps.
Those of you who have been joining us on our adventures for a while will know that Steph and I enjoy paddle boarding. In fact we even got married on one!
One day we will take Willow for a paddle but until she gets her sea paws she is perfectly happy to remain on solid ground.
The lake was the perfect place to test out my latest invention. I call it the banana board. It’s – as the name suggests – a banana lounge strapped to a paddle board. Willow looked on from the banks somewhat perplexed – rightfully so.
So, it’s now the evening and I have unstrapped the banana lounge so I have a seat around the fire. Willow pokes her head out of the van and decides that we’re all being a bit noisy for her. Maybe you’ll join us on another night Willow?
Willow does enjoy a good campfire, though. When we spent time in the outback on those freezing nights she would often sit with me on these same banana lounges watching the fire before bedtime.
Oh, look at the time. Steph and I say goodnight to everyone and hop into the back of the van. Willow is curled up on the bed but quickly jumps down and asks for her second dinner.
After her feed it’s not long before she settles on my knees – and it’s not much longer after that that her purrs turn into little snores. The night is cold now but we have just the right amount of blankets, and tomorrow, there will be a new adventure.
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Thanks for joining us at the lake. What a beautiful place – sure beats picking grapes for a pittance! I think Steph and I will stick to blueberry picking from now on..