With the 9-day licence course completed, I was at a bit of a loose end. Having spent almost every day last week flying, I’d now to make do with the more typical forecast of intermittent days of flying, giving me, initially, time to rest and reflect on what I’d accomplished in the last week, as well as time to think about how long I wanted to stay in Bright. Now half-way through my year in Australia, but having clocked up less than a third of the days of work I needed to do to be eligible for a second year visa, I had to start thinking about doing farm work again, so I took a cycle up the Wandiligong Valley one morning in search of the Nightingale Brothers’ farm.
Nightingales’ is the biggest farm in the area, with an expanse of apples (I think it’s the biggest orchard in – as is the usual kicker with Australian records – the southern hemisphere) and chestnuts, luring in hundreds of backpackers – in particular, curiously, Koreans – months ahead of season. It seems that, with such high demand for their employment, the Nightingale brothers could do this really annoying thing where every time I turned up at the farm asking for work, they would tell me to come back in two weeks. Leanne and Greg, owners of Bright Hikers, are some of the kindest people I’ve met, so nice that they let me borrow their 4×4 for a day to have a better stab at job hunting so, after enjoying a week spent mostly in the hammock on the verandah, and occasionally flying, I drove to Nightingales for one last time then tried some farms on the Great Alpine Road towards Eurobin. After the usual dismissive, devoid of all interest, response from the apple farm, I was happy to be finally at least being asked for my name and number by Boynton’s Winery and the Bright Berry Farm, amongst others. None of them seemed optimistic about the opportunity of work, but at least they were more sincere about it, and they had my number. In fact by the time I’d got back to Bright I had a message from the berry farm saying they had a position for me, starting next morning.
Back at the hostel, Leanne told me she’d heard the Bright Brewery might be looking for bar staff so I had a look down. Having never worked in a bar, I didn’t fancy my chances for the job – it couldn’t be that hard, surely – but it looked like an OK place and I’d met two of the guys who worked there last week so knew I’d be working with cool folks. It turned out they were interested enough, so I was back an hour later after hunting down a pad of paper from the supermarket and scrawling down what vaguely resembled a C.V. in my typically poor attempt at neat handwriting. C.V. handed in, I was asked to hang around for a couple of hours as they were training Danny who hadn’t yet done a shift, so it made sense to get me done at the same time, and at that point, I guess I’d secured my second job in a day.
What followed were a few seriously busy weeks, where I’d do at least two of the three: vine maintenance, working at the brewery, and flying, each day, typically up at 6, cycling 13km to the berry farm for start at sunrise, getting home about 3, then either floating around in the smooth late afternoon air á la paraglider, or putting in a few hours at the brewery. It was a good time, even though it made every second of sleep count, being up to see the sun rise and set, cycling 15 miles a day, doing at least one job I really liked (brewery) and one that was OK, still getting time to fly, and all in Bright. I didn’t care that I was slowly wasting away the time I had left to explore the rest of Australia, I was earning money, getting to know people – better than you get to the know them when you’re touring round the coast – and generally settling into life in the alpine region.
As the weeks went by, things only got busier, with me adding two unofficial jobs to my workload so I was – aside from a bartender and vine maintainer – supplying photography to the paragliding school, and tending to the IT needs of the hostel, which doubled up as an internet café. Life couldn’t get much better, I was using just about all my skills to tie down paying jobs, as well as work that paid the kind of perks that made living, and playing, in Bright very affordable for me, and soon jokes were being made – cautiously – about when I would really leave the sleepy little town…