Farm works: a staple for any backpacker in Australia. After a few months in the state of Victoria, we had a good shot meeting Brett, a colorful and pure Aussie character who invited us to join him in a seasonal harvesting job, the banana industry in Far North Queensland. Suddenly, we found ourselves hitting the highway all along the East Coast. We drove past all the most renowned destinations for party goers, as well as two of the major Australian cities, Sidney and Brisbane. During this 3,300km ride, lasting four days and nights, we admired how landscapes change deeply along the wide range of latitudes Australia sits across. The destination was Innisfail, a town plunged in a lush tropical atmosphere, laying along the croc-infested Johnston River. Brett kept his promise of introducing us to our new company, the LMB Farms. A brief handshake with our new boss, with no further question needed, marked the beginning of a new chapter of our adventure in this manifold, wild land.
We committed to four months of work, covering the whole peak of the harvesting season. That is also what we needed in order to accomplish our 88 days of farm works, the amount of time a backpacker on a Working Holiday Visa is required to spend in a “regional” (read fairly remote) area of the country. Initially, our great will had been cracked by the tough life in the banana plantation. The extremely humid climate, combined with weather quickly shifting from a burning sun to heavy rain, made it hard to breath. Mud was everywhere. A wildlife, rich in snakes, spiders, rats and many others, populated the farm. Furthermore, we started at the very peak of the season, and the rhythm of production was quite demanding. Our daily alarm at 4.45am was also difficult to get accustomed to. As the time passed by, though, we grew friends of the crew, composed mostly by people from Fiji, Vanuatu, Thailand, Ukraine and Philippines, along with surprisingly few Australians. As usual, good human connections make any struggle bearable.
This feature does not only stand as an insight into an extraordinary reality, but also as a tribute to these comrades in a war against ordinary life.
The whole process begins out in the fields, where the humpers select the fruit ready to be processed, cut the tree with a machete, and pull the bananas’ bunch down, grabbing it onto their shoulders and placing it onto a trailer, taken around by a tractor. The bunches’ weight spans between 40 and 70 kilos.
Once brought back in the shed, the bunches are pulled up from the trailer with a system of automated chains and washed thoroughly. Once ready, they fall in the hands of the dehanders, who cut the rounds of bananas off the stalk and let them fall directly into a pool, which gradually takes them to the packing area.
The bananas are diligently screened and selected by the packers, who pick only the best fruit and put them in 15kg boxes. An experienced packer can prepare an average of 60 boxes per hour, which means a box every minute. Their pace usually gives the rhythm to the overall process.
Last but not least, the stackers pile the boxes up onto pallets; some of them will be directly placed onto refrigerated trucks and sent throughout the country, while the excess will be stocked in a capable fridge room.
Bananas are such a common fruit, yet few people know the process which takes them to our table. As for almost every experience in Australia, it was rough and wild, but it gave two Italian travelers the chance of challenging themselves with a completely brand new environment.
One thing is for sure: we will never look at bananas the same way we used to.
Photography: Enrico and Matteo Fabi