The Welfare State

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Travel  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chapter 1

Submitted: July 09, 2011

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Submitted: July 09, 2011

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Occurred - January 2011, Dunally, Tasmania (Australia).

 

Upon entering Tasmania, everybody should be without money and jobless, apply for the dole, start doing bucket bongs and embrace teenage pregnancy. This is what everyone else who lives there seems to do and they all have a whale of a time, except for the fact that they never had money or jobs to begin with.

 

We never intended to travel to Tasmania without money. One week prior, we had traveled to the north-western tip of Victoria and over into South Australia in search of fruit picking work. It was January, and according to the harvest guide we could make a killing picking oranges. Little did we know that by 'making a killing' they had actually forgotten to include 'self-induced slave labour'. After 4 hours of earning roughly $3.50 an hour under a contractor we decided to call it quits and bust.

 

We retreated to the local pub in Waikerie and began calling up farms across the country for work. We felt hopeless, believing at the time that our dream to fruit pick around the country for 4 months may have come to an end after only 4 days. We pleaded with the harvest hotline that we were willing to drive anywhere in the country for work, ignoring the fact that we barely had enough cash to leave the state. She eventually gave us the number of a local apricot farmer in the south of Tasmania.

 

As naive as we were, we called him and confessed our hatred for contractors and wages that were low even by Chinese standards. He seemed to sympathise with us, at least partially - but it wouldn't have made any difference. At that moment in time he could've been paying $7 an hour and forcing us to sleep in a tin shed and we still would've hailed him as our saviour.

 

We hung up the phone and told our friends across the table that we were headed for Tasmania. They were French, and made the cut as an awesome traveling couple when the man befriended us by asking for weed on the street corner. 

 

We packed up the car at around 8pm and set out to drive the 755 kilometres back to Melbourne and catch the ferry to Tasmania 9 hours later.

 

Our first port of call once hitting the island was a small coastal town called Dunally. We had no idea where it was, and when we looked on the map we realised that it was actually on the other side of the state. We somehow had just assumed that once we got to the island we would only be a couple of minutes away from everything that there was to see and everywhere that you could go. Sadly we were wrong - Tasmania was at least 400 kilometres in length. At that moment we were in what appeared to be the poorest excuse for a town this side of the country. It was lifeless, grey, built around huge slabs of concrete and rusted fishing boats, and went by the name of Devonport.

 

We arrived just as the sun was setting, and before pitching we thought that it would be a good idea to walk around the town and ask random Tasmanians for advice, hinting at the fact that we didn't really want to sleep in Devonport. We met a teenager at the local Woolworths after buying a 4 pack of sausages and a loaf of bread that was about to pass its expiry. I bought them, in true Tasmanian fashion, with the schrappers I found in my jeans pocket. He told us that he lived in a town called La Trobe, and that there were plenty of free camping areas scattered behind supermarkets and in parks. He talked up the place so hard I couldn't help but imagine majestically green rolling hills and a luscious stream with something as crazy as a dolphin passing through it.

 

I wasn't actually far off. We rolled on into the main strip and saw the IGA that the teenager told us we could camp behind. It ended up just being a small patch of grass (with two backyards on either side and a supermarket garbage dump only five metres away) but we didn't mind. We quickly hit the closest park BBQ, which was the cleanest thing I had ever seen (I'm from Frankston) and cooked up. The park backed onto a stream that looked exactly like the one in my mind, and when we looked closer we saw a Joey and a baby Platypus.

 

We rose the next morning and hit the streets in search of a bank to solve our money issues. This was truly a place that only Tasmanian retirees called home. The main strip was packed with old white-haired couples walking their beagles - probably on their lunch breaks from the local retirement village. The local bank was built into a red-bricked house and inside were three sexy Tasmanian tellers.

 

We told them of our dilemma (the short end of it being that we had none but were meant to have $50 from Dean's Dad). We told them that we had spent our last dollar getting the ferry over, and then continued to flirt mildly with them, hoping that we could convince them of giving us money that didn't exist. But as dire as it all seemed, miracles can happen (at least in La Trobe). Somehow, after only 5 minutes, a crisp $50 bill from the register was just handed to us. We were stunned, and even though I am not religious in any way I still secretly thanked whoever was responsible. We burned out of La Trobe faster than we had entered, fuelling up at the local station and continuing our journey further south.

 

After several hours of driving through narrow pot-holed streets, we eventually passed Hobart and entered into areas where the population significantly drops. We arrived at Dunally, a backwards country town called home to at least the farmer we were working for. The main street was dead silent. It was like there had been a town evacuation that we hadn't heard about. All of the people that you would usually see bustling down the streets on their way to work or stopping to get their morning coffee were replaced with small amounts of litter and dust.

 

We pulled into the town petrol station, expecting somebody called Greg or Tony to fill up our tank. It was one of those stations run by an elderly couple, with the 80-year-old wife working behind the counter, selling hard candy with home-made signs to local kids. They were probably the same kids you used to see selling lemonade out the front of their suburban houses.

 

We pulled around to the dirt car park to buy a meat pie and a Big M and somehow began a conversation with the only person that was lurking around. He was an older dude, and instead of walking he just slouched in the passengers seat of an old, beaten-up Ford Falcon. I know that we were both secretly wondering what the hell he was doing there.

 

His name was Gary (one of two possible names that he could've had in a town like this). He sat in the car quietly, drinking one of those pint-sized beers. He had it all over himself and was clearly trashed. When we got to talking he mentioned he knew the farmer we were about to work for. He said that he was a stand up bloke, and would care for us as if we were his own. He also added that if we ever needed to get off the farm for any reason we were always welcome. Sadly I could only assume that this'd been what he'd said; I could barely hear him with the amount of spit that was flyin' out of his mouth. He only needed to mention something about 'needin' a wash' and we were out of there as fast as we had arrived.

 

As we continued our journey further into the town we saw: 1 small-time bakery; 1 small-time pizzeria (we had connections to free food here but it never eventuated); 1 general store (where all the townies bought their food at highly inflated prices); 1 pub with an attached bottle-o (but no attached drive-thru which surprised me).

 

Without knowing a lot I got the feeling that everything and everyone in this town had a specific purpose. There was probably one single bar tender, whose job it was to supply every drunken goon with alcohol. Then there was the one policeman whose job it was to stop it (even though he was probably written off in the pub corner). These guys probably also knew the town fire-fighter, the town farmer, and the town petrol station assistant. We found out a little later that Geoff (the farmer that we were about to work for) had a 16-year-old son who was already too well known to not get served in the local pub. This was because the bar tender 1) had already dealt with him trying to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels aged 14, and 2) was personal friends with Geoff and knew what kind of shit would fly down if he was served.

 

From that moment on Dean and I joked that perhaps the townsfolk would swap jobs from time to time, just for a laugh. The conversation of a typical Tasmanian couple would probably go down something like this:

 

'Darell, where you goin' boy?!' Cheryl screams from the kitchen.

'Just gonna go be copper for the day hun. Got me gun today and Larry gave me his copper clothes,' Darren replies.

'Thought you were gonna be fire fightin' today Daz!?'

'Ner. Gary took me gear for that, f***in' c***.'

 

As we drove over the town bridge and down the road that led to Geoff's, we realised that these were our first impressions of the town. They literally had 4 shops - 2 for food, 1 for petrol, and 1 for grog/smokes.

 

We reached our destination soon after. The farm, situated on a large property over 2 hectares, was run by Geoff and a few close friends. Every year, from December to February, they would work all day long to pick and pack every apricot from the trees they owned. Neither Dean or I had picked any fruit (professionally) in our lives, except for the oranges a few days earlier.

 

Our accommodation on the farm itself was breathtaking. We were given this small, completely self-contained cabin about 50 metres from the house and had a beautiful view of their personal peninsula. The tide went out so far that you could run right out, dodging all the small crabs that lived there. In the distance you could see a few small islands, most of which we visited at some point. A little can definitely buy you a lot in Tasmania.

 

Despite the the fact that the accommodation was free, we had to share it with two older men so its appeal levelled out. The two men were called Davin (I think) and Colin. Colin had been in the fruit picking game for decades, but spent far too much time watching low quality DVD's. Davin was escaping some post-divorce/wife death hardships. He wore, at all times, those typical Hard Yakka shorts and the matching khaki shirt. It was his daily routine to drink several cups of strong coffee and smoke a few dozen rolled cigarettes before work each morning. He sucked them down at a ghastly rate. He is also probably the only person I've met that takes smoking breaks in his sleep. He would go to bed at 11pm, rise at 2am for a cig, go back to bed, rise again at 4am for another cig, and then rise at 6am (with another dart) and go about his day.

 

Like this wasn't enough, there are a couple more things to be said about Davin. One afternoon, we were filling out our tax forms so that we could get paid. As Dean was putting his completed form into the pile with all the other forms he noticed something funny about Davin's. The first letter of his name had appeared to be crossed out several times, allowing for a new letter - G. Davin or Gavin? I don't think he was even sure of it. The following conversation went like this:

 

'Hey, so is your name Davin?' I said, confusingly.

'Yeah, it's Gavin,' he replied.

 

Enough said. I was as confused as I will ever be. I'd hate to think of what it's like for him, especially when trying to remember his log-in number for Centrelink.

 

But the comedic styles of Davin didn't stop there. One night in the cabin something happened, some time around 2am. Dean, Davin and myself were all asleep in the one room. I was on the top bunk, Dean was on the bottom and Davin was on a double mattress on top of a single bed frame. I have no idea why he wanted to do this - it meant that one half of the mattress flopped over the side. But as it happened, Dean and Davin were in line, height wise, with each other. In the middle of them was a glass table. There was nothing except a few toilet rolls on it. The night was dead silent. It was dark, but Dean was sort of half awake because he couldn't sleep due to Davin's snoring. I was sleeping, but awoke to a great smashing sound.

 

'DUDE, MIKE, ARE YOU OKAY?!' Dean screamed.

'Yeah dude, I'm fine,' I replied cooly. 'I'm up here.'

'What the fuck wasthat then?'

'Owwwwwwwww...' moaned Davin.

 

Okay, so what had just happened? Had Davin just fallen and landed face first through the glass table? Yep. Did the glass table shatter into hundreds of pieces? Yep. Was Davin dead?

 

'Oh dude, are you alright?' I said as seriously as I could, trying not to laugh.

'Davin? Shhh don't laugh man...'

'Yeah boys I'm alright,' Davin muttered. 'All good, nothin' to see 'ere.'

 

As manly as one could sound in this situation, Davin tried his hardest to get back to sleep and forget that him falling face first through a glass table in his sleep had ever happened.

 

With the exception of the two teenagers that Dean and I spent our time with on the orchard, the youth of Dunally didn't seem to be any more intelligent than the likes of Davin. We had met Jase and Tristan on our first day, with Jase being the son of the farmer who owned the farm and Tristan being the only friend to work with him every summer.

 

Tristan lived at home with his single mother, who on his birthday forgot to buy him a present. He told us that this happened more often than not, and as a result would usually spend his birthdays at his mate G's house getting ripped.

 

Jase actually wanted to be a doctor, but with the sheer fact that he had been smoking 40 cigarettes a day (even when he was 16), I don't think he's fitting the bill. He told us that he would usually smoke 10 before school, 5 at recess, 5 at lunch, and 20 or so between 4pm and bed time.

 

Although this was probably a complete fabrication, I couldn't fathom this kid being physically able to do something like this. I have a friend back in Melbourne called Dan who once smoked 2 packs of Peter Jackson 30's in one night, and here Jase is smoking 20 less cigarettes everyday. Regardless of the whether or not he was telling a complete lie, I liked how ludicrous the story was.

 

We spent a lot of time with Jason and Tristan, getting to know probably a little too much about their lives in Dunally. We were taken along to a Triple J's hottest 100 party (which is a huge deal) where a huge party was taking place. Aside from Australia Day (which I would've loved to spend there for sheer hilarity), this day was the second biggest party in January. The bucket bong area was down back, the speakers were set up high in the garage, and all the cars were brought into the front yard so that we could put sofas on their roofs. I think, for memory, I also saw some people wearing Australian flags as capes which initially made me think that it was Australia Day at the time. I now just think that it was probably 1 of 2 days in which they expressed their national pride. The countdown - the epitome of Australian culture. Songs like 'Sex on Fire' and 'Knights of Cydonia' (not Australian) gave them more than enough reason to celebrate.

 

Dean and I were actually pretty excited because we hadn't drank or partied in a few weeks. The only exception to this was a time when we were stranded on one of the islands. We had decided, stupidly of course, to let his 16-year- old son drive us out there on a makeshift boat. As fate would have it the weather turned to absolute shit and we became completely stranded. As any normal person would do in a situation like this, we decided to get drunk at 9am. We got Jase absolutely obliterated, resulting in him throwing up through gaps in the rocks swearing 'f*** youse c***s, I just haven't drunk in awhile'.

 

In true Australian fashion we bought a few casks of goon to celebrate the countdown, and went around talking to whoever looked remotely attractive. With this plan failing quickly, Dean and I were stuck talking to a girl that was an apparent stalker of Jase. We had heard about this girl before and saw her from a distance when she would rock up to the farm uninvited, hoping to talk to Jase.

 

Adding to the fact that she was his stalker, we found out that she was also pregnant. Not only that, but as she preceded to tell us how she found herself in this predicament she was actually struggling to hold her half-filled Jimmy and coke in one hand and cigarette in the other. The short end of the story was that the father was a 19- year-old mechanic from down the road. She just happened to be an 18-year-old high school drop out.

 

'Don't you think that you shouldn't be drinking or smoking?' Dean said bluntly.

'This is me first drink and ciggy of the day,' the pregnant girl replied.'That's aight isn't it?'

'How many months pregnant are you?' I added.

'7 months. Me other mate is 5 months. Both kids got the same Dad.'

 

Despite the fact that Dean and I had next to no knowledge about pregnancy, we definitely knew this chick was not doing it correctly. Also, what was the sheer possibility of the father knocking up Jase's stalker and then knocking up her mate 2 months later? It's really only something that could happen in a backwards town like Dunally. Interestingly, neither of us were really shocked, mainly because we had already spent a fortnight with Jase and Tristan and got a sense of their strange existence. It just seemed inevitable that a story like this would come along.

 

Eventually 2 weeks passed and we were paid for our efforts. Extensive rain and hail stones were beginning to ruin the crops, so for the last 5 days we all had to spend every hour in treacherous weather. Luckily Geoff's hot 50-year-old wife, Jan, provided us with hot chocolate and let us come in for coffee and tea - retrospectively a common beginning to a mediocre porno.

 

We packed up the car with two checks for $800 in our pockets and blasted out of Geoff's driveway as fast as we had entered. Despite the fact that we had actually formed a little home for ourselves during that fortnight, we were ready to move on. Jase was drawing us into his small-time existence more and more everyday, and Dean told me that I had actually begun saying c*** in my sleep from time to time. I've always known that once I begun saying this word unconsciously it was time to move on from wherever the hell I had found myself.

 

We both held our heads high for Geoff and his son as we burned out the front gate and onto the highway. Even if they were living in the heart of a backwards town, they took us in as two of their own and made us see how we would've lived if we were born in rural Tasmania. But luckily we weren't, and with the benefit of having a car and living the free life we left Dunally unscathed – at least not physically. Our only concern at that moment, as we pulled out onto the main the strip, was that we'd see Gary lurking around, sipping on another pint-sized beer and offering us a shower. But we had no time for that – we were still following the harvest trail for all that it was worth.

 


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