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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Grape Land

Updated: May 30, 2022

How we all made it to Mildura...

... yet... more specifically, how we all made it to the particular location that Ivan told us about... is spectacular.

There were no cell phones, google map, GPS...

We had a napkin from a drunk night spent on a Noosa beach.

I actually took the directions and copied it into my book.

But... we did make it and we were reunited with this bunch of weirdos.

One of the farmers we worked for was quite cool and said that we could make "our own hours"...

... Donna and I took that as "it's ok to leave at 11am every day to watch Young & the Restless."

To be fair, we didn't even really like that show.

Donna was my row partner.

Once we realized that we actually had to 'pick' the grapes in order to get money... we tried to be a little bit more diligent about doing full hours... and we even tried to be productive.

There was only one thing that got in our way... FLIES.

Big, loud, buzzing, annoying, in-your-face black flies.

The flies seemed to enjoy spending their hot, summer days just flying into our faces, in an overly irritating, relentless and repetitious manner. Donna would have a psychotic meltdown every now and then, which managed to scare them away temporarily...

I'll never forget... "F#$K OFF, FLYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!"

Other Mildura memories:

  • $3.00 per hour.

  • 4 days to wash 800 buckets.

We would sing:

"I owe! I owe! So off to work, I go!

We work all day for shitty pay!

Hi - Ho! Hi - Ho! Hi - Ho! Hi - Ho!"

Man, we were dirty all the time.

Even showering couldn't rid us of the grape grime.

We thought working in the killing fields of tomatoes was bad?


I have a new appreciation for the workers, each sip of wine I take...

I don't think anyone can lay claim to having REALLY experienced Southern Australia until they have lived through the pain & suffering affiliated with that of stepping on a three corner jack, whilst in bare feet.


Mildura was littered with these little beasts... and they were just waiting to puncture each and every one of us.

This is what got us through each day...

Our "picking" names...

Dances with Grapes.

Grapes in her Hair.

Pick like the Wind.

We 'might' have been influenced by Dances with Wolves...

... ever so slightly.

No one wants to do this sort of work.

Not even me, way back then. It sucked.

I managed to suffer through.

To be fair though... we did have a LOT of laughs.

Donna used to try to teach me to count in Gaelic... and I made her go postal in the process.

1 = a haon (ah hain)

2 = a dó (ah dough)

3 = a trí (ah tree)

4 = a ceathair (ah cah-her)

5 = a cúig (ah coo-ig)

My response/translation was; A hen, a dog, a tree, a cat and a car.

Donna was not impressed.

At all.

In fact, the more I said repeated it, the more frustrated she would get.

This grape-vine classroom of Gaelic education would go on for days... and always end the exact same way.

A hen, a dog, a tree, a cat and a car.

Donna taught me all the words to "Willy McBride" and "Show me the way to go home"...

Eternally in her debt...

I taught her "Put another log on the fire."

If we ever thought we had it bad in our disheveled and dirty accommodation, we were definitely sobered up when we visited the boys at their rundown, one-room 'shanty-shed.'

But man, did we have fun hanging out each evening "beside it"...

The boys may not have had running water or electricity at their 'shed,' but they had top of the line loo facilities...

Maybe it was the long hours in the heat... maybe it was the wine... but these guys sure knew how to have a good time when the pickin' was over and the beer was flowing!

This was the first place we stayed in Mildura.

We got kicked out because the farmer said we "partied" too much.


I object.

Fake news.

I don't remember a lot from this place except that Donna, Azhra and I shared a very blue room. Almost teal. They had the two cots, and I had a mattress on the floor. One night while I was sleeping, no word of a lie... a rat ran across my face.

No one believed me.

Dave always described Mildura as "Dog eat Dog"... but most of us didn't care how much money we made.

If the last place thought all we did was party, the next farmer was certainly in for a surprise!

Whereas we had been separated prior to this, the entire group of us moved into ONE place... and then it was game on.

Every night.

And man, were we always dirty!

Ivan drew this picture of me lying on our dirty carpet.

Very life-like.

Very flattering.

True talent.

The resemblance is staggering.

(I've since had some dental work done.)

Man, we got dirty...

Dave and Willy always worked together.

They were "grape inseparable"... and even when we suggested switching it up on a couple rows, they declined. Dave could get in some FOUL moods, but he could also be a lot of fun too.

Most of the time they acted like we annoyed them.

We probably did.

Although... looking back now, we were probably more hilarious than annoying.

Donna and I could be pretty funny.

Our new grape farmer actually "liked" us...

Strange, but true.

He was cool... if I remember correctly.

He went OUT of his way to invite Donna, Ashlynn and myself on a day trip to a sheep shearing station.

Here is a list of Mildura memories I felt deserved honourable mention in my precious memory book.

I must admit, looking back, I wish I'd given slightly more context...

I do remember "too many parties" because the lot of us got kicked out of our accommodation!

Ivan and I shared the bond of The Sound of Music... much to everyone else's dismay.

We might have been ever-so-slightly torturous... but what do you do, when you've the voice of an angel?

"... and you're not afraid to keep singing when everyone tells us to shut up."

And then grapes were over...

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