Sunday, 10 June 2012

Do You Come from the Land Down Under?

Oh yeah, that's a "Men at Work" reference.

I do have a good excuse for it though: we are currently in the Land Down Under. (“Where women glow and men plunder”-  seriously, what does that even mean?)

Bad 80’s music aside, our first week(ish) in Oz has been a great introduction to the country. We started our stay with a weekend in Sydney, where we stayed at our friend and generous host Maura’s apartment. The great thing about staying with friends is that you have a fun, comfortable welcome in a new place and someone to explain Aussie Rules Football to you. The downside is that you spend most of the weekend eating and drinking and hanging out with friends instead of being tourists and actually seeing the city.

We did manage to tear ourselves away from the cozy, wine-filled apartment long enough to walk along Sydney Harbor one afternoon, take a few pictures of the world's most recognized opera house and eat a famous meat pie from Harry’s Café de Wheels, one of Sydney’s oldest culinary institutions. 

The Phantom of the Opera House
Harry's Famous Tiger Pie: a steak and gravy-filled pie topped with mashed potatoes and peas. Delicious.
We were also lucky enough to be invited by Maura to an Aussie Rules Football (AFL) match, where we struggled to follow the chaos that was happening on the field. 36 players, eight referees, two message runners, and a massive round field with four goal posts at each end. Even without all of the wine from the night before, I still would have had difficulty understanding what was going on.

As a last hurrah in Sydney before taking our plane out, we visited the Sydney Vivid Festival, which is a celebration of art through the colorful lighting up of Sydney monuments at night. It was spectacular and original: the perfect temporary good-bye to a city that we can't wait to explore more in a few weeks.

Sydney by Night, as seen from Maura's balcony
Vivid light show on the Opera House
Light show on the Modern Art Museum
From Sydney, we took a plane up the East Coast to Brisbane in order to catch a bus to Byron Bay, where we are spending two weeks working in the countryside on a pecan farm. It’s a similar deal to the farm we were working on in Argentina: five hours of work a day in exchange for room and board. We are living with a lovely Aussie couple who run the farm along with a pecan factory and a little country café. (A side note- they also have a hilarious teenage daughter who runs to her room and blares the opening guitar riff of “Smoke on the Water” whenever she’s mad at her parents. It’s awesome.) The area is beautiful and our hosts are great fun, which makes five hours a day of picking and sorting pecans a little more tolerable.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against a pecan or two, but after a full week of dedicating my life to the nut, I’m a little pecaned-out. The actual work tasks aren’t mind-blowingly exciting, however it has been really interesting to learn about the operation and understand all of the work that goes into growing, harvesting and processing the nuts. We’ve worked at nearly every stage of the supply chain, from shaking the trees and collecting the nuts, to working in the factory to separate, crack, sort, grind and package them. 

Another up-side is that we've had endless opportunities to giggle over juvenile "nuts" jokes, i.e. "Your nuts are huge!", "These nuts are old and wrinkly," "Stop playing with your nuts," or my personal favorite: "Can you hold my nut sack?"

Fondling my nuts
And I have to admit, I feel kind of badass working the line in a factory, like I’m some tough worker from the Industrial Revolution or something, enduring grueling conditions just to make a wage.  

Workin' the line...
Aaaand then I remember that I’m a middle class, college-educated white girl who’s choosing to volunteer in Australia for fun. Not exactly Rosie the Riveter, ya know?

When we aren’t working, we have been have a great time hanging out with our hosts: watching Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (it doesn’t get more Aussie than that!), going to the pub for Thursday Trivia Night and attending yet another AFL match. After seeing a second match and having the rules re-explained by die-hard fans, we’re finally starting to understand the game. Kind of. 

On a totally unrelated note, today is Vincent's and my fifth wedding anniversary. It's also our day off, so we are celebrating our special milestone by spending a rainy day lazing around on someone else's couch. I know, the romance is overwhelming.

So that's the summary of us volunteering in Australia: spending our days off being immobile sub-humans and spending our work days playing with our nuts.

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