Monday, 22 June 2009

A Goodnight Story

Goodnight is a very quiet place. When you walk about the only things you hear are your own footsteps,your own breath, the rustling of your clothing, and birds. There are a lot of birds, parrots of varying shades of green, red, white and grey. Willy wag tails, kookaburras, currawong, apostles, cockatoos, ducks, kites, eagleshawks, wrens, ravens and more. We are staying on the banks of the Murray river, which has water from one bank to the other, but which flows in such a slow,lazy fashion that it makes no sound. Goodnight cannot be described as a town. It is more of a settlement, a loose gathering of homesteads. There is one shop, although it keeps short hours, which have yet to coincide with our passing. The main business of the area is cropping, wine grapes and oranges.

Goodnight Shopping

There are a dozen or so houses in the village, at least two of which are for sale. We looked in one, the front door was wide open. It's that kind of place. I haven't yet telephoned the agent to assertain the price, but I am curious.

House for sale in Goodnight

The nearest town is called Tooleybuc, around 10 kilometres to the south. The sign proclaims the population to be 275 souls. We need to drive there if we want to use our mobile telephones, as Goodnight is without coverage.Tooleybuc has a post office, a grocery and takeaway shop, a pub, a caravan park, a garage, a sports club, a school and a cemetary.
The navel oranges this year are plentiful but small. Plentiful is good, small is bad. They cannot be picked until they are completely dry, otherwise within a day or so from picking they develop brown marks where they have been touched by the fingers. As it is winter mornings are often dewey, if not foggy, so usually we don't begin work until around 10:30am, and work until whenever we please. As we are paid by the bin,this is usually close to dusk. Although the oranges are small, they are sweet and juicy. It's a fine thing to make good money picking inedible fruit such as unripe pears, but when you are making not such good money picking small fruit on limited hours,it is some small consolation that the fruit tastes good. You can't eat too much of it though. Well, you can, but you pay at the porcelain. During the first few days of a cherry picking season (november-december in the southern hemisphere) many pickers fall victim to "cherry belly"
Accommodation is provided here rent free by the farmer, which as I have said, is on the banks of the Murray. There are only a few other pickers, couples Ray and Raylene, Ron and Sharon, kiwi Jeff and Aussie Jim, Jim being a reformed heavy drinker who is constantly popping a fresh wad of nicotine gum into his mouth and claims to be able to speak passable Hindi. I am unable to verify this, so I take him at his word. There are a few other pickers who do not stay on the farm, and who work for contractors. A contractor is a middle man. A one man labour hire company. I don't work for a contractor, I work for the farmer, I am paid by the farmer. A group (always a group) of pickers working for a conractor have their arrangement with the contractor,the contractor has the arrangement with the farmer. This can be to the farmers advantage as he only needs to write one cheque to pay for many workers and doesn't need to worry about tax declarations or superannuation and work cover payments.He also doesn't need to bother himself as to whether the workers have the appropriate immigration status. Thus many contractors employ foreigners with dubious immigration status. Contractor gets the cheque, takes his cut then pays the pickers. I may have stated previously my opinion is that most contractors in the fruit industry are parasites. Here is an illustration. For the first couple of days of the season there was a group of Indian pickers here. They were working for an Afghani contractor. We are paid $25 for each bin of oranges we pick, plus 9% compulsary superannuation which is paid into a fund that can win or lose the money gambling on the sharemarket, and which the worker cannot access until retirement. The farmer was paying the contractor, for each bin, the $25, plus the 9%, plus a few cents for work cover,a form of insurance which pays a wage to an injured worker unable to work. This contractor was paying the Indians $15 per bin cash, and keeping the rest for himself. They were needless to say very upset. They asked the farmer if they could work directly for him. The farmer was sympathetic but could not help them because it meant breaking his agreement with the contractor. To be honest this is the most ruthless behaviour I have seen from a contractor. Many of them just employ illegal workers, and pocket the superannuation and work cover money. They make a tidy living doing little. Parasites. There are some honest contractors, but I haven't met many of them myself.
We don't have a television, however we do have a radio we purchased at a Shepparton garage sale for $1. It is a mighty fine 1970's SHARP 3 band radio cassette with auto stop. It has a tape counter, a REC/BATT meter,and a condenser microphone.

We don't posess any cassettes, except for the one which the unit had in the deck upon purchase,which exhibits what I recall might be called extreme wow and flutter, and may indeed have been in close proximity with a strong magnet. This makes listening so unpleasant that I am unable to even tell you what was on the tape. A collection of classic vinyl will always be a better thing than a collection of classic magnetic tape, even if extra moneywas spent at the time on "position II" and chrome cassettes. I never could tell the difference and can't now, although I don't feel particularly badabout the fact that I can't call myself a cassette connosiuer. I do intend however, when I am settled, to purchase the finest thermionic valveamplifier I can afford, and if the "warm" sound is not satisfactory reason enough, then for the "warm" glow of the valves to accompany the soft glowof the playfield and backboard of the classic pinball machine which will be stationed nearby. The mind wanders in the silence of a Goodnight evening. Back the the SHARP 3 band. The radio produced glorious monophonic sound. At least it did until it stopped working.I took it to pieces. 1970's Japanese radios are very well engineered and constructed. To get at the faulty switch I had to remove about twenty screws. After fixing the switch and replacing about fourteen screws we now have a mighty fine 2 band radio cassette with auto stop. The 2 bands are short wave 1 and short wave 2. AM seems to have been lost in the six screws I deemed to not be essential, however I doubt re-insertion of the six screws will restore AM reception, not that it was much good in the first place. Anyway, some of the screws have already been redeployed elsewhere, hanging makeshift curtains and such. This makes for interesting listening. Of a morning we have clear signals of both ABC AliceSprings and ABC Darwin. Of an evening, interestingly, we are able to recieve clearly several signals from China, including Beijing's english language service. We also are able to tune into Radio New Zealand, Indonesian radio, and on occasion transmissions from Papua New Guinea in pidgeon english, which is remarkably understandable and amusing to listen to.

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