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Banana Boomerangs

Cousin Mark (well, second cousin) is the only one of my Aussie relatives who’s stayed and worked at Cae Mabon. He’s a traveller and adventurer (like I once was) and here describes his time working on a banana plantation in northern Queensland.

As a child, I was genuinely concerned about bananas, or more so, slipping on one. It seemed to be a large problem out there in the world, much like drowning in quicksand or disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle. As I grew older I realised these dangers were less problematic than popular media would have us believe. However, in 2016 I was pleased to find myself in situations where these fears would come back to haunt me.

Every year thousands of young people from all over the world flock to Australia on working holiday visas. After a year they have to apply for an extension. To be eligible for this sacred honour the government has decided they must work in a rural area for three months (because few others will). This is not how I found myself on a banana farm in north Queensland. But it’s how I found myself time after time in the same conversation: "Here getting ya visa extension are ya?" "No, I'm Australian." "Oh...why the hell are ya here then?"

I never really had a good answer for this question, but it did mean I was the first non-local Australian to ever work on this particular farm. This status gave me an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. Or maybe it was self-loathing. I could never quite put my finger on it.

It was hard, hot and dangerous work. Each day we were shuttled out to the farm, set within undulating hills covered in endless rows of banana trees as far as the eye could see. Surrounded by lush green mountains that couldn’t be passed, it was like a prison or a nightmare you can’t escape.

Once in the rows I’d stand behind a young Japanese man, Keisuke. Dripping with sweat I’d watch him swing a long triangular machete, twice, into the trunk of a banana tree, dodging his unpredictable back swing each time. Above me was a bunch of bananas weighing anything from 20 to 90 kilos. The taller the tree, the bigger the bunch, the heavier the fall. There were a lot of large trees around, possibly due to the steroids regularly pumped into them.

Immediately after the cuts, bananas fell unceremoniously onto my head and shoulders. Other things that fell included rats, bats, spiders, birds and snakes, everyone's favourite. Just as all this landed, Keisuke swung his machete once more – inches above my head – freeing the bunch from the tree, but hopefully not my head from my body. It was a refreshing feeling each time I felt the breeze of the blade go by. It was the only breeze anywhere and gave momentary relief from the intense heat.

Brain still firing, I'd hump the bunch over to the awaiting tractor-trailer. Or I'd fall flat on my face after slipping on an actual banana peel. Once a bunch was dropped, there it would remain, too damaged to keep, too heavy to pick back up, thus perpetuating the cycle of rotten bananas everywhere and banana peel mines awaiting my demise at every step. Many careers ended as a result of banana peel slippage. ‘Banana communication’ - the act of gaining someone’s attention by throwing a rotten banana at the back of their head – was another factor. Everyone in the field was rendered deaf due to the constant drone of the tractor. Even so, no one could explain why such an effective method of communication was banned.

Much like a banana to the back of the head, without warning my time was up. I was lucky as in the following weeks the farm caught panama disease, a banana fungus, and sadly closed down forever. That was the end of my career in bananas. But I still enjoy eating, throwing and slipping on bananas to this day.

In the next newsletter Mark will tell us about his experience working on super yachts in the Caribbean. If you’d like to catch up more with his doings here is his web address:

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