This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


2002 Travels December 13


Another Friday 13th – don’t like!

We had to do a full pack up of the camp, and incurred more midge bites in the process. Around here, the midges haven’t heard that they are supposed to be critters that only come out at dusk!

It was a long, hot, day of driving.

Refuelled at a servo at Kunda Park – 82cpl.

I had hoped we could stay a day or more at somewhere on the Sunshine Coast, but John decided to get the driving over and done with, and get to Brisbane in one day.

He had gone into “heading south” mode – making a beeline for home, as fast as he can, regardless of the comfort of doing so. I hate ending our trips this way – means the trip ends with bad memories.

The drive was tense at times, due to other drivers doing stupid things, and making John cross.

It was about 4pm when we reached the Gateway Motorway, but the traffic was not too bad. I had been somewhat worried that we would be reaching Brisbane at peak time and that this would make John even more short-tempered.

I had selected the Gateway Village Holiday Park as looking like a pleasant place to stay. South side of the city was best, because the shop John came here for was that side of the city.

The park cost us $22.50, after discount. It was a very nice park. There were lots of villas – I hoped that in the future the caravan sites did not all get sacrificed to the spread of these.

We only set up the basics for a brief stay.

Bought fish and chips from a nearby place, for tea.

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2002 Travels December 12


After breakfast, we drove to look around nearby Agnes Waters. There were some shops – it was a bigger place than Seventeen Seventy. There was much real estate for sale – clearly, developers were hoping for the place to boom.

Bought some bakery items for lunch

Refuelled Truck – 85cpl.

We drove to explore some tracks in the nearby Eurimbula National Park. Headed for Middle Creek. The track was slow, rough and boggy/cut up in parts. It went through timbered sandy/swampy country – not particularly interesting. The track ended at Middle Creek, which was one of the creek inlets we’d crossed yesterday.

There were a few small campsites at the end of the track – with campers.

John fished in the creek mouth for a while, and caught a flathead.

On the way back, we sidetracked up to a lookout on a low rise – it was not really worth the effort, but Parks had clearly gone to some trouble to make the track, now neglected.

By now, we had many sandfly bites – again! They were making us both miserable. They were really prevalent at our caravan park, but we had been told they were not bad back at Agnes Waters.

We decided not to stay any longer, because of the midges. Pity, because I found the surroundings lovely. I was hugely entertained by the antics of our resident bush turkey – he was so busy gathering materials from all around for his mound, scrathing about in it, arranging it to his liking. Very fussy he was.

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Turkey at work!

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2002 Travels December 11


We were up early, to the alarm, to be breakfasted and ready to walk the short distance to the dock area, beside the inlet.

The LARC tour we booked for normally went from 9am to 4pm.

When we got there, the tour operators apologized because ours was not the usual tour. They had to also transport some Ergon Energy workers to the lighthouse, to do some work there.  So, our tour would be two hours longer and we would not get back until 6pm. Was anyone complaining? No way!

The LARC was painted pink! It was like a boat with wheels – which I guess it was!

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The LARC, with Bustard Head in the background

It was a hot day, and there were only eight of us doing the tour, which made it even better.

As soon as we loaded up and cast off, we were straight into the deep water of Round Hill Creek inlet – quite a wide inlet. It was quite a weird sensation, driving up out of the water on the other side, straight onto the sand.

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Taken on board the LARC, part way across the channel

We crossed three other creek inlets in this way, in between going at a fair speed along a beautiful, pristine beach, which was part of the Eurimbula National Park.

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Along a beach stretch, we saw what appeared to be a dead turtle on the sand. When our driver/guide investigated, he found it was still alive, but stranded. He handled it very gently, carried it to the water and held it there for a while, so it could cool down and rehydrate. It eventually swam off. We all felt really good about the rescue effort.

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Turtle rescue

There was another tidal creek – Jenny Lind Creek – at the base of Bustard Head. Usually, the LARC was parked after crossing that, and tourists had to walk up the rough road to the Lighthouse. But today, because of the Ergon men and their gear, we were driven up.

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Bustard Head light house

We had travelled 24kms along the beach, from 1770 to Bustard Head.

Bustard Head was so named because Cook’s party shot and ate a bustard here – and found it excellent eating. And so began the decimation of the huge numbers of Plains Wanderers of the continent.

The Lighthouse was being restored. It was still a working light station, but was automated in 1986. After that, the buildings were neglected, and there was a shocking amount of vandalism – surprising because it is so inaccessible. There is an extremely rough, dry weather track through the National Park, or one reaches the place by boat. The guide told us that the teenage offspring of some well-to-do families who holiday in the area, were responsible for a lot of the damage.

A former lighthouse keeper here, who was upset by the loss of such heritage, with help from some others (including the LARC operator), had formed the Bustard Head Lighthouse Association, obtained a lease over it, and had begun to restore the light house and the associated buildings. It seemed to us a rather daunting task, but was all being done by these volunteers.

The Lighthouse had a really dark history, of murders, drownings, suicide and tragedy.

After having a good look around the light station, we walked down to Aircraft Beach, on the other side of the headland. Tour groups did not usually do this, but we had those extra two hours to play with.

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Aeroplane Beach

The views along the coast from Bustard Head were superb.

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From Bustard Head, looking across Jenny Lind Creek, towards 1770

In the afternoon, we went in the LARC back down to Jenny Lind Creek and a little bit along it to a large sand dune/sand blow area. Tray-like things were provided for those who wanted to go sand boarding on the really big dunes. We passed up the offer – not the greatest idea for John’s hip.

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LARC parked by the sand dune area

We just wandered about the area, finding that really enjoyable as it was such a beautiful place. It was very peaceful there, which was just what we needed.

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Eventually we trundled in the LARC back up the top, collected the Ergon men, and were transported back the way we’d come, to the village.

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Parked by jenny Lind Creek, with the light house in the distance

The LARC was a great vehicle (vessel?) to travel in – at least in fine weather.

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We were told that the Lighthouse Association planned to have volunteer caretakers live in one of the keeper’s cottages – as soon as it became habitable – to prevent any more vandalism. Volunteers would sign up for a two month stint. They would get their necessary supplies via the LARC, on its tour trips.

We put our names down to do two months, after 2004. It seemed that it would be quite an adventure, and a worthwhile cause.

I bought a book – Lighthouse of Tragedy – by Stuart Buchanan, the former keeper who was the prime mover of the Association.

By the time we got back it was almost dark.

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This shows the beach we travelled along, and the inlets we crossed

We were pleasantly weary after a wonderful day. That was worth every cent we paid for the trip. I considered it was worth every one of the trays of mangoes I’d packed to earn that money – another way of looking at it!

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2002 Travels December 10


Again, it was a day for driving, including negotiating our way through Rockhampton.

We did not go into Gladstone.

At Miriam Vale, turned off the Bruce Highway and made our way to Agnes Waters and then the Town of Seventeen Seventy. I had long been fascinated by the name of this place, so had persuaded John that we had time, still, to take a brief tourist break on the way south. We did a trade-off, because he wanted to go via Brisbane, so that he could visit a shop that sold the gauges for weather stations – good quality ones.

The Town of Seventeen Seventy is at the location where Captain Cook made his second landing in Australia – after the one at Botany Bay (now Sydney). The village here had a different name, until 1970, when it was officially changed as part of the two hundred year commemoration of Cook’s voyage.

We booked into the Captain Cook Holiday Village – I guessed the name was inevitable! Cost $17 a night. The park was quite a “bushy” one – leaf litter underfoot, trees overhead, and a bush turkey busy building his mound nearby.

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Our site in the bush land of the caravan park

After set up, we drove off to explore the township – just a village really. We discovered there was a less formal camping area further towards the Point, and by the water’s edge. But we were happy enough where we were – less crowded, anyway.

We found there was available a day tour on an amphibious landing craft – the LARC – along the coast to the Bustard Head Lighthouse, to the NW. It seemed the tour had won a number of awards – it was certainly “different” – so we decided to treat ourselves, and booked for the next day. It cost us $95 each, which was not cheap. We had to turn up in time for a 9am departure.

After that costly impulse decision, it was back to camp and a lazy rest of the afternoon.

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2002 Travels December 9


We left Ayr in good time this morning, aiming to drive southwards until we’d had enough for the day.

Did not take many breaks from travel, but just had to stop near the Big Mango in Bowen, in order to take a photo!

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The Big Mango at Bowen

The route as far as Mackay was familiar, since we’d driven it – both ways – recently. We passed through predominantly sugar cane country until around Clairview, about half way between Mackay and Rockhampton. There, we were briefly by the coast but could only catch a brief glimpse of the sea through trees. That marked the end of the cane country and we were then into grassland grazing land.

Filled Truck at a Mobil servo at Carmila – 81cpl.

By the time we reached the hamlet of Marlborough, had definitely had enough, so we booked into the Marlborough Caravan Park – $14.50. It was rather basic, but we just needed somewhere to prop for the night.

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Overnighting at Marlborough

We were able to stay hitched up. too.

Slept soundly, despite the proximity of the highway.

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2002 Travels November 8 – December 8


Back to getting up to the alarm clock! Early – in order to have time for breakfast and to pack the day’s food.

We found that the drive to Giru usually took about half an hour, for the 40 or so kms, but we tended to allow 45 minutes, because we had to negotiate some town traffic in Ayr.

It was a pretty drive, through farmland growing sugar cane and mangoes. One we did not get sick of. Morning traffic was not bad as we usually had to start work at 7.30 or 8am, so were heading through Ayr quite early. It was also mostly quite cool at that time of day.

As our time at Ayr progressed more towards the wet season, there would sometimes be some really dramatic storm cloud build-ups, to see as we drove our beaten path. There were some really heavy rain downpours too. Some nights we worked until late, so were driving back in the dark.

We took our packed lunches and drinks for the day – there were no shops anywhere near the packing shed, and our breaks were not long. I soon got into the habit of packing something we could eat for tea, as well, if it looked even remotely likely that we could be doing a late run of fruit. The little esky chiller, with a couple of cans of cold Coke in, kept the food cool.

Our first day was getting oriented, and doing training.

I was assigned to the packing lines, and John initially to the washing area.

There were numbers of other workers in the shed – variable in number, but generally about 20 or so – often not enough! There were desappers, sorters, packers, forklift drivers, people who put labels on the fruit (after packing) and closed boxes, and quality control checkers. Outside, there were the pickers.

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Picking mangoes

The workers ranged from grey nomads like ourselves, who were essentially travellers, to older people (and a few younger) who followed the “harvest trail” around the country – moving from one seasonal fruit/vegetable, to the next in another part of the country. There were some overseas backpackers.

We were told by some of the old hands, who had worked here previous seasons, that the local workers now refused to work in this shed, and some of the harvest trail workers also would not return, because of the two women who managed the shed. They had managed it for a couple of the previous seasons and had gained a reputation. They were a couple and were quite nasty people – and very poor bosses to work for. They were rude and abusive to workers and downright bullies. The few backpackers who started with us did not last long, as they were particular targets and refused to take the treatment meted out to them.

A few of the harvest trail types had rigs parked out behind the packing shed. I think there were some primitive facilities out there for them. A few were at Ayr, like us. The backpackers were in hostels in Ayr.

Picking the mangoes was a male province. The mangoes were picked from the ground level, using long poles. In theory they were still somewhat green and were picked in the afternoons. They sat overnight, in crates, outside, with stems still attached. This allowed the sap to settle in the stems and stem attachment area.

The next day, they went to the washing area in the shed. Here, they were de-sapped, by removing the stems, whilst holding the fruit upside down. This was sone under running water, partly because the sap was very caustic to people’s skin, and partly because any sap contacting the mango skin would leave a sap burn that would later cause the fruit to rot in its box, and potentially ruin a whole box of fruit. We quickly learned that the great enemy was sap burn!

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Desapping mangoes

Desappers wore long, heavy gloves, and skin protectors, and waterproof aprons. It was a messy job. Most of the desappers were female backpackers.

Occasionally a snake of some sort would find its way into a mango crate during the night, and then cause a major stir in the desapping area when it surfaced next day.

From the washing area, the fruit moved on conveyor belt rollers to the sorting tables in the adjacent section of shed. Rotating rollers moved the fruit along – the speed of movement could be varied by the bosses, but it was always fairly fast.

Sorters stood in a line each side of the sorting “tables” – the rollers – and picked out any fruit they saw that was sap burnt, had marked skin, was undersized  – or was ripe. Packed mangoes had to be still green – after storage, they would be gassed to ripen them at the required time.

The sorters closest to where the fruit arrived from the washing area, were the busiest, those at the far end often had few problems left to find. They rotated their order regularly. The sorters often looked quite comical, scrabbling away really quickly, grabbing fruit with both hands as it passed by them, and dropping their reject finds onto a small separate conveyor belt in front of them, from where it would go into the bins to be sold for juicing.

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John working on the sorting table

Some of the ripe ones were kept aside so staff could take them. We ate a lot of mango in those weeks!

A surprisingly small proportion of the desapped mangoes actually made it from the sorting tables to the packing area. The bosses would periodically check over a selection of the rejected fruit, to make sure that the sorters were not discarding good mangoes.

The sorters were a mix of men and women.

Runs of mangoes were done by type. This shed worked mostly with Kensington Pride mangoes – or KP’s. Later in our time there, we had some runs of R2E2’s – a much larger fruit that was destined for the Japanese markets, for Xmas, where they were expected to fetch over $20 per mango! Extra care was taken with the R2E2 runs.

From the sorting area, the fruit was conveyed along a line that automatically sorted by size. Size was designated by the number of mangoes packed to a standard box. e.g. 20’s fitted 20 in a box; 22’s fitted 22. KP’s ranged mostly from a very few 14’s, through to 24’s – but mostly 18, 20 and 22.

A packer would work at a packing station where fruit of all one size was delivered via a roller belt, at about eye height, into a large bin beside the packer. They would pack on a small bench area then push each filled box onto a lower roller belt for delivery to the end area of the shed, for labelling and sealing.

There were different packing patterns for each size, to fit the right number of mangoes into the box in a way that would protect the fruit during transit. I learned the main patterns on the first day – and there were diagrams stuck up at each packing station to jog the memory. The mangoes were always lined up in their box pointing in the same direction and the same way up. so the appearance was a very uniform one.

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Packing. Note the uniform layout of fruit packed in the box

A packer had to work fairly quickly – almost frantically at times when there was a lot of fruit and the bosses speeded up all the processes. If a bin overflowed the fruit could not be packed, but had to go for juicing, so there could be considerable pressure not to let this happen. Packers had no control over the rate of fruit delivery – if the speed at which fruit was delivered from the wash to the sorting tables was hastened, or if two or three sorting tables were operating, things got busy at our end! The pressure was not helped by the bullying tactics of the nasty bosses.

Packers also had to be on constant watch for any faulty fruit that had been missed by the sorters – usually with sap burn – so one had to pick a mango out of the bin, turn it over and inspect it, as part of the packing process.

Sometimes, if some of the sizes did not have many coming through, those of us packing would have to keep watch on the bins on either side of us, and move to packing at any station where the bin was getting close to overflowing.

A packer would take a box from a conveyor belt above head height – assembled elsewhere – and put the box on the bench in front of you. You would pack it, then slide the box forward onto the lower rollers, and it would trundle away.

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The packing line

The whole process was really quite interesting, and had it not been for those two bosses, I would really have enjoyed the job. It could be very tiring, some days, although we got regulation breaks – mid-morning and afternoon, and lunch – which helped greatly. The shed was not too hot, mostly, though one often worked up a good sweat.

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Lunch time in the packing shed

John found the rubber gloves of the desapping lines really irritated his skin, so after a few days he moved to the sorting tables, which he enjoyed. I sometimes got drafted to sorting, too. John did a little bit of packing, but the boss woman in that part of the shed did not want men workers in her section – she could bully females better!

The end section where labelling sealing etc were done, and the boxes forklifted off into the cold storage room, was staffed predominantly by men – the partners of some of the packers.

There was a Sungold packing shed across the road from ours. They worked set hours – 8am till 5pm – and the workers there received a set wage. Our shed – which  handled fruit from several different plantations, including that trucked down from Townsville – worked hours according to fruit supply. That was why we were paid by the hour. There were a few days when we worked from 7am till 11 at night! That was great for the pay packet, but exhausting.

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Mango orchard at Giru

We worked also to a rule that said if there was a breakdown or a problem in the shed, that was under the company’s control, then we got paid for any time spent waiting around for the place to become operational again. If there was an external problem, out of company control, like a power outage, we did not get paid for waiting around time. That only happened once, when the power went down, and after a little while we were sent home early, so that was fair.

As well as our pay, we received the mandated superannuation. We were happy with our wages – some weeks, we banked over $2000 between us.

The shed operated 7 days a week, when the fruit was ready, so we rarely had days off. The biggest problem this caused was that we soon found it hard to get provisions. We were away in the mornings before the shops opened, and home after they had closed. We just had to stock up on the rare occasions that we finished early – and hope. I managed to always have some mangoes – the ripe rejects from work – to eat at “home”, if all else failed. We always had these for breakfast. Did not get sick of them, at all.

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R2E2 mangoes – freebies

Doing the washing was another issue – but the park laundry had really liberal hours, so running a machine at 10pm was permitted , even if it wasn’t desirable from my viewpoint.

So we cherished the rare days off!

I found the other workers in the sorting and packing areas to be very pleasant, and interesting. After the mangoes were finished, some would head to Victoria for the Goulburn Valley fruit harvest, or to Mildura for the citrus and grape harvests. Then they would return to Qld for the beans and tomatoes of the Bowen area. Some had started with the earlier mango season around Cairns and followed them south. We gained interesting insights into that way of life, which seemed to be a healthy and comfortable one for those on the harvest trail. They had holiday periods in between the various harvests, travelling slowly or going a long way round to see different places.

Mango work had its hazards. While we were there, a backpacker got a spray of mango sap in her eyes and had to go to hospital. Some people developed “mango rash” – a sensitivity to the fruit – and had to stop working with them. Towards the end of my time there. I had some small, itchy, rash areas on my arms, but thought it was just heat rash. We sweated quite a lot in the sheds.

John walked into the tow hitch on the back of Truck and took a chunk out of his shin. This became infected after a couple of days, and he ended up having to go to the outpatients department at Ayr Hospital for treatment. A fortuitous early finish one afternoon was very timely, here. Once the wound was dressed, and he had some anti-biotics, he kept going to work.

One afternoon, when we were told there would be a late run of fruit, one of the backpacker girls asked nastier boss if she could finish by 9pm, because there was a farewell party at the hostel for friends who were leaving, and for her birthday. We actually finished the packing a bit before 9, but then nasty boss deliberately assigned that girl to the clean up team – washing off the rollers, tidying up and the like, so she didn’t finish until after 10pm. It was after this little exercise of power that the backpackers all stopped working at the shed.

Over the weeks, the workers – including us – had become increasingly fed up with the antics of this woman. Other people found it too much, and left, so at times we were really short on the sorting and packing areas.

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Mangoes ready for picking

The harvest was supposed to continue well into December and probably into the New Year. We had initially intended to go the full distance, into January, but along with many of the older staff, began talking about pulling out too. I couldn’t understand why the main company management let these two women run the shed, given the labour problems they created.

John was actually fairly keen to be home for Xmas.

The last straw for us came on Saturday 7th December.  We’d had storms and a power outage a couple of days before, that stopped a whole day’s work, so there was a backlog of fruit.

Another nomad couple had been put on and the lady was learning the packing, and was doing quite well, I thought. It did take a few days to get properly into the routine of the different packing layouts, to the point of doing them evenly and quickly. The bosses decided to run a third sorting table, thus tripling the usual quantity of fruit coming the way of the by now very under-staffed packing area.

We were packing like crazy, and were told off because some fruit bins overflowed – there were just not enough workers to keep up with the volume of fruit arriving. The new lady, with bins about to overflow on either side of her, called out that we needed help, over here. The response of boss lady was “Well, you bitches will just have to f****** pack faster!” Really helpful, that. Then there was the tirade, in the same vein, once the bins did overflow.

That was it, for me. At the later than usual lunch break I told John we were out of the place. Some of the others left with us.

So we drove the commute back to Ayr for the last time. As it happened, the sky was suitably stormy.

We used our last day in Ayr – Sunday – to get the van tidied and gear packed away, do the washing, fuel up Truck, say farewell to friends we had made in the park. Over our time at Ayr, given our lengthy commute to Giru each day, we’d bought diesel several times  at the Woolworth’s servo at prices from 80-82cpl.

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Farewell drinks at the caravan park

In the laundry, I dropped my glasses on the tiled floor and broke them. New glasses would be on the agenda, when we got home again.

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No fixing these!

Over our time in the park, our weekly metered power bill had varied between $5.50 and $12.85, depending on the hours we worked and were not home. We had not been running the somewhat noisy air con on the hot nights, relying instead on the box fan set up on the table at the far end of the van and blowing air our way. With this and the good cross ventilation from the windows at each end of the bed, we were fine.

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2002 Travels November 7


So we trundled back north, along the Bruce Highway recently driven. Through the sugarcane country, across the big silver Burdekin bridge at Home Hill, back into Ayr, where we booked into the Big 4 Silver Link Caravan Park.

We had already established that we would get a worker’s deal at this caravan park – $72 a week, but with power metered and separately paid for. That was fair enough, as this was getting well into air-con season! The park was of a good standard, with modern, very clean amenities.

We set up camp for an extended stay, then drove to refuel Truck – at the Woolworths outlet diesel was 82cpl. Then checked out the shops and bought some supplies. I bought a small Esky chiller, for transporting our lunch and drinks.

Our caravan site was shaded by large mango trees. With ripening mangoes on!

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Under the mango trees at Silver Link Caravan Park

There were a number of other workers camped in the park. Our’s was not the only packing shed in the vicinity, so some of the others worked in other sheds. We were later able to compare workplace experiences with some.

We were both looking forward to the new experience that would start tomorrow. We had to report to the shed at Giru at 8am.

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