It was made very clear to me upon my return that I needed to go and get a job. Any job. Just get one. I'd worked in various professional offices with a background in HR and Industrial Relations, but in my hometown of eight thousand people these jobs were non existent. Good jobs were held on to, only a fool would let a decent position in a comfortable office slip through their fingers.
I put my name down at various fruit packing/distributing companies and within a week or two I was working. Nepotism worked in my favour, my sister was reliable and hard working at the local fruit co-operative, my father was the Managing Director. I'm sure there were a few giggles when my application made its way through the office. All those dollars spent on a private school education and here I was desperate for a job sorting mice out of apricots or hunched over, packing oranges in to a box.
Every day was the same, make sure your walkman (remember those) was charged, put your apron on and try not to get too sea sick as the fruit whizzed by. The noise was deafening, it was dark and damp. A quality control inspector sat at the end of the line looking at what was going through to be packed, there was pressure to move quickly, keep your eye on the ball. If you didn't move fast enough you let everyone down and it was obvious when you couldn't keep up. I had a continual feeling of dread that I wasn't any good at the job. If I couldn't do this. What could I do?
When the suits from the city came to talk of enterprise bargaining and spoke about our careers, we stifled giggles. No one was there for the job satisfaction, no one was there by choice, we all needed to be there, there was no alternative. It wasn't a career, it was a job. You clocked in. You clocked out. It didn't mean we didn't have some fun in the process.
At lunch we'd sit at laminated tables on uncomfortable chairs and talk about what we'd do if we won the lottery. When we'd exhausted that conversation it moved to the mundane. The factory was full of women, there were a couple of token men thrown in to work on the machinery and help with the heavy lifting. People talked about wanting to buy a house and struggling to get a deposit together. Those that did have a house spoke of the struggle to pay the mortgage, feed kids and maybe go on a family holiday to the city or the Gold Coast.
We talked about the footy, the weather, the Union rep and the local gossip around town. There were lots of jokes, lots of laughs.
I look back at that time of my life and realize how much it changed me. In particular it was a time that I got to spend with my sister. As I sit here typing from my desert surroundings, it's hard to imagine that there was once a time where we worked in the same town, in the same building. If I knew how much our lives would change it's possible I would have greeted her with a hug each morning, cherished it all a little bit more. In a few years I would be gone, back to the city and eventually out of the country.
When I was packing oranges I was physically exhausted. At age 24 I would come home and fall asleep in the bath at the end of the day. My back hurt from standing hunched in the same position. In the winter I seemed to constantly have a cold. I stood next to women in their forties and fifties that were faster and stronger than I was. I often wonder if it was just because they had more at stake - a house, children, a dream of retirement.
I wonder what the conversation would have been this week in my hometown when a certain Australian politician flew all the way to Washington only to then resign from his role. Maybe they wondered what it was like to fly to Washington for work? Maybe they wondered about what he was actually meant to be doing while he was there? Or maybe they just thought you'd have to be a bloody fool to give up a job like that.
This week I've been surprised by how many people have spelt Labor as Labour. I'm not sure the two have anything in common.
* For those outside of Australia here's a link for some background.
Anyone else as tired as I am with the current state of Australian politics?