Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Goodnight, Tooleybuc, hard times.

Jenny and I, despite our relationship having ended, have returned to Goodnight in order to pick oranges.
The farm we stay on with it's campsite on the banks of the Murray River is as beautiful as ever,
but the year since we were last here has not seen prosperous times for Goodnight or Tooleybuc, nor has it been particularly fruitful for Jenny or I.
Where to start? The locust plague is as good a place as any. People have been driving about with shade cloth covering the
front of their cars, in order to prevent the locusts from fouling their radiators. If the locusts were bad a month ago,
it seems it will pale into insignificance compared to the expected plagues this coming spring and summer,as this autumn the warm weather
and good rains provided perfect conditions for egg laying. These eggs will remain dormant for the duration of the winter, and news of the coming plague is even reaching the ears of city dwellers.
The town of Tooleybuc is not faring well either. The town of around 250 souls is home to a pub, general store, caravan park and post office. All of which are for sale.
The number of groves and vinyards in Goodnight which have been allowed to dry up and die seems to have increased, and the farm we picked oranges on has not escaped. The wine glut in Australia has reduced the price farmers in these
parts recieve for their grapes to below the cost of production, and as this farm is primarily a vinyard, the owner has decided enough is enough.
The farm is for sale and the grapevines won't be pruined nor watered in the summer. They will most likely die.
There is more money to be made selling the farms annual water allocation than using it to grow grapes. The permanant
water rights are able to be sold seperately to the land. Indeed the water is worth more than the land and it is probable
that the water will be sold to another farmer, leaving the farm itself without water, leaving the grapes and oranges to die, and leaving the resulting mess worth little.
As for this seasons orange picking, the oranges were big, some took two hands to pick, but the farm was flooded with
illegal contractor pickers, and the season only lasted a week. We have been to the other farms in the Goodnight/Tooleybuc area,
and they are all employing the services of contractors, who will not give legal workers a job. Today we visited a large
farm in Tooleybuc we picked on last year, and as we waved to the illegal Malaysian Chinese pickers who we met earlier on the farm here in Goodnight, we were told there was no job for us.
Having recieved this news we decided to drive to Swan Hill to comiserate/celebrate the end of picking. Swan Hill seemed
even more depressing than usual, the opressive vibe of despair I usually get from the place being that much sharper.
I've heard it said bad things come in threes, on the way back to the farm from Swan Hill the clutch on the old corolla started
to slip badly, the car we were hoping to sell in the next couple of weeks could be up for an expensive repair, and the toilets at the farm camp have blocked up.
Individually these things vexed me greatly, but now I feel strangely calm and at peace. I don't know if this is good or not.