How would you like to elope to the lucky country, Australia, with your home as a VW campervan, your best mate beside you, driving from seaside, to country town, pub to festival, with a spot of sun-drenched vineyard picking thrown in here and there for spare cash? I know I bloody well would.
It’s the dream that many of us have tucked away, ready to jump on when life throws a chance at us. It’s also a lifestyle that my Mum revealed she dipped into before having to give into the suburban life and raise a family. She’s always been a devout red wine fan, but after sharing a bottle of Barossa Shiraz with her recently she took me on a trip down Nostalgia Lane.
“Keep it clean, please Mum.”
She looked offended.
“Of course I will, darling. It’s the pre-twenty-one years you will want to block your ears for.”
It was Australia in the 1970s. People were worried about the Vietnam War. It was the Aussies first chance to watch their telly in colour. The White Australia Policy was thrown where it belonged – in the trash. Olivia Newton John was centre stage and many women were discarding their bras in the name of feminism. Amongst all this, Mum had met the ultimate tour guide in her friend Donna. Between them they had one yellow VW campervan, a modest wad of cash, and an entire 4000 km wide country to explore.
Donna herself was a contradiction of a woman. She wore large men’s shirts with the sleeves torn off, not for fashion mind you, but for heat’s sake. This was matched with short shorts to provoke a tan. She was exactly the sort of woman you would want by your side when travelling into the wild unknown of the Australian outback. Donna was a campervan veteran, and naturally knew the best place to earn some cash to pay for enough petrol to get my Mum and herself to the Northern Territory.
Barossa seasonal vineyard picking was the answer. Fields of dark, red grapes attracted caravaners of all shapes and sizes. There were even the elderly Binders, who despite being in their 70’s still routinely joined the annual picking frenzy. The money was incredible – about AU$10 an hour for five days of back breaking work in the sun – and that was back in the 1970′s. Ultimately they were paid by the bucket load – so there was loads of bending up and down, up and down…up and dow-
“Mum – please stop repeating that. Get on with it.”
Thanks to Donna who knew to pick up this quick, cash in hand job. Mum was taken on a vineyard tour first with the throng of other workers. You would have a test run – pick up a bucket, fill it with fruit, tip it on the back of a truck and start again. When working, someone would be taking a tally of every bucket you added to the pile. You had to watch keenly for spiders. And for snakes. That may be a rare occurrence in suburban Australia, but it was a real fear when shoving your hand into the vine leaves. The secateurs (a cutting tool) were often your saving grace to cut the fruit off before any fangs had their way with your flesh.
It was all very laid back though, but with the underlying strictness of having to line up, dump your pickings, and file off.
Mum took another sip of her 09′ Barossa Shiraz as we sat chatting. It must have triggered a memory, as she suddenly described a scene of fellow workers sitting in the shade under trees, hiding away from the sun after hours of working – ‘it was hard work!’ – she stressed. But she also assured me there were cold drinks on tap (unfortunately no wine though).
But apparently there was an end of picking season party. And this most definitely served wine. This is the part where you remind your mother she is currently in an interview for your work blog, because you are a professional, and that this is not an opportunity to scar her offspring.
Let’s not forgo the grape treading ritual. Huge metal tubs were placed central in a field, attached to the back of a tractor, and all workers had the opportunity of crushing the grapes beneath their bare feet. Mum told me how it turned her legs bright purple. She told me that this wasn’t part of the winemaking process, but purely for fun. Personally, I would be rather crushed myself to see even a portion of all that back-breaking work stomped beneath the feet of sunburnt travellers…
I wondered whether vineyard picking would be for me…Mum?
“Well if you’re fit and don’t have any back problems, I’d definitely recommend doing some vineyard work when travelling…you will be earning more than you would perched in an office by instead being outside, under the sun, with fellow adventurers. It’s is the best option by far!”
Minus the spiders, I would have to agree. It’s only a matter of time until I convince the powers that be at Virgin Wines HQ that our office needs to be operated al fresco.