The Murray River Queen

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This is a boat I lived on for two months. It is a working hostel based in Waikerie, South Australia. Backpackers go there to complete their regional work for their second-year visa. It is based in the citrus capital of Australia. They arrange picking jobs, mainly oranges depending on the season, lemons, limes, pumpkins, grapes, garlic and a few packing shed jobs. It varies depending on the time of year and weather.

So after I finished my awful time cattle farming I was tempted to go back to Ireland. I was convinced okay eight months here, that’s loads of time, time to cut my losses and go home. Although I’d yet to see the Great Barrier Reef. So I was online comparing prices of flights home and looking up the reef. I had previously told gumtree to post any second-year visa jobs to me. At the correct moment in time, a gumtree ad popped up for orange picking. I watched the video on the website which showed all the water sports around the boat everyone having good fun and it was destiny. (No activities in the ad are still functional.) They wanted workers urgently. You pay a hundred dollars to secure your place. The first of many costs. I booked a flight and flew to Adelaide two days later.

Peter Pans in Adelaide helped me book the bus to Waikerie and gave me some extra information. They worked for ‘second-year visa jobs’ whom I paid a hundred bucks to. Little did I know both those companies and the boat was all owned by the same man. Anyway, I got to Waikerie and made my first friend off the bus. Kenny an Italian who ended up staying in Waikerie till October. This was the end of April by the way.

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Kenny And I

My eight weeks on the boat were interesting. They did not supply all the work they promised. You had to fight over bins to fill for oranges. You get put on shit farms where there are very little oranges on the trees or they’re small or there is lots of climbing. Due to winter coming in we often didn’t start work till eleven or twelve and then it was dark by five. You get paid by how much you pack 25 dollars a bin at the time. You were really limited, and if it rained there was no work. The whole boat just went on the piss as soon as it started raining. It was bizarre but became normal very quickly.

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Room Partys… Sarah Jane, Scott Charlene and I

Now here’s the funny thing, for most of my time on the boat there was an alcohol ban. You were not allowed drink and they chased you around the place like you were thirteen-year-olds. Yet they sold goon (Australian cheap super strong wine with fish eggs, in a bag, messed up stuff, dangerous), they sold goon three dollars dearer than the supermarket which closed at seven every night. It was all about the money. So their Thai restaurant supplies drink. Often we were caught in a situation where we were going to get thrown off the boat for drinking, so then we leave it and the police are there in the dry zone waiting to find you. One night there was thirty of us just standing on the bridge in between the boat and the dry zone, all with some form of disguised drink. The job and lifestyle literally does drive you to drink. There’s not much else to do in Waikerie unless you are a rower like me Waikerie Winter Rowing or play AFL. We often went off into the ‘wilderness’ and had some great bonfires.

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Cameron collecting wood
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Becca collecting wood
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Ricardo, A very funny Italian

Entertainment in the boat had to be created by ourselves. Besides the poker night at the hotel once a week which has since been discontinued, there isn’t much. We did the occasional dress-up night. Movies on the TV in the common room. A pool table and table tennis would get competitive. I had my monopoly cards which I bring everywhere since Mam gave them to me for my twenty-first birthday. I must have taught thirty people how to play. Every night people would ask for them especially the Italians and the Scottish. Good craic. I think I played over a hundred games versus Kenny, unfortunately, he is ahead by two points still. I loved getting little knocks on my door at night people asking to borrow the cards and I find them outside in the morning and fair play because they were never damaged.

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Mad John

When orange picking you wear gloves, the cheap kind that may last two days. I think it is two dollars for each pair. (Probably worth ten cents). More money. You pay for your transport to work each week which may be a five-minute minibus ride up the road but its ten dollars and yet in your contract with the boat transport was included. Rent was pricey for the state of the boat. To this day I have NEVER seen a kitchen so bad. No pots or pans, no knives or forks, rarely a tea towel, no plates or bowls, limited cooking utensils. You had to buy it all yourself in the local charity shop. The filth was pretty bad too. Food stealing the fridge was awful. Seriously guys, not in the spirit of backpacking. The freezer would often stop working, never trust it. Scotto had to eat forty chicken nuggets for breakfast. Also the hours, it used to drive me INSANE. It may not open till eight or nine in the morn. No chance of me eating before rowing. When I got a fulltime job we’d wake the manager up to open it at seven. And the night time was shut at nine the same time that we’d finish our twelve-hour shift. (Not just the kitchen but the food lockers too were locked up) Arrrgggh.

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Entertainment
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Scotto playing his pick up filters game.

Sleeping on the boat was difficult. The same people would always party, play music and roar. No matter what night of the week. That is what finally got me. After complaining a few times I realised I needed to get off badly. Not being able to sleep, or cook at certain times or even freeze food, made me into an absolute demon. I lost my temper a fair few times. Especially when you are paying rent of one hundred and sixty to have a place to sleep. They just didn’t give a shit. People threw fruit, really big navels down your air vent, the noise was awful. Always wakes you up. I remember pacing my corridor in the dungeons with steam coming out of my ears which eventually earned me the nickname Mummy. There were double standards from the management at the time. The people who’d act up were often favourites and could do anything, whereas if you were generally polite, you’d be shot for having a chat getting back from work at night. Or could be back from a late-night jog and get your water bottle sniffed at suspiciously, like seriously.

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The top deckers

Orange picking was hard and you might pick two bins and get fifty bucks but it takes forever. You’re allowed to listen to music which is great and working in teams. But I have heard that out of all the fruit picking jobs oranges pay the least. Although I’ve heard limes are hard. My first-week orange picking I was quietly working by myself getting a bit competitive with someone over my half of the tree at the top of the row. (These trees carry more fruit) And I stepped into a bull ant’s nest. At first, I didn’t notice due to my big hiking boots. OMG, the farmer said before he didn’t know where I was from but the screaming and cursing he said was the most Irish thing he had heard. I got three bites and they lasted a couple weeks even with the best of creams. Another thing is you are picking oranges is never look in your bag as you are bound to see big massive spiders, just unclip it and dump it into the bin. It is tough backbreaking work for sure.

 

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The bin you fill for 25 dollars

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The Thai restaurant is by far the best thing about the boat. It is open to the public but you can get backpacker prices if you live on the boat. I never had Thai before then and wasn’t into spicy food. But Chuy changed all that. One of the best chefs ever who hails from Thailand of course. He can whip up anything. He’s garlic chicken is dangerously addictive, I had to wean myself off it from three times a week to once. Bit by bit he made me taste different Thai dishes. It totally affected my taste palate for the better. He also has the best sense of humour ever and never tires of making jokes about my Irishness. He is great banter even more so when the wine is involved. He is down to earth and he would do anything for the backpackers. He’s one of the very few staff on the boat that would actually care. I’d count him as one of my good friends now, till he asked me to take a white-tailed spider across state lines that is… (I think he has not moved onto actually cruise ships that move)

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Chuy having the craic

I don’t even know if I could talk about everyone I met on the boat. There were so many. So many characters. There were room parties until the early hours of the morning. You’d hear a knock on the door and maybe six people would cram themselves into the little shower, lock the bathroom door. Hiding as if caught in school by a teacher. As if we weren’t heard partying two minutes previously. There were two Estonians in my dungeons (dirty dark damp bottom level of the boat) and wow these girls had some endurance. I met them one day and they were on the goon forty days straight. I met them twice in three months when they were sober. For instance, after a big night out, the boat was waking up at like midday because there was shouting outside, the two of them still partying on, sprawled across the bridge to the boat with their bags of goon. They’ve been seen walking straight into poles. They’ve fallen down the stairs into the dungeons as I got up for work.  Someone dropped the car keys into the river and apparently fifty dollars was the reward. It was winter and everyone stared at the filthy cold river until one of the Estonians stripped down and hopped in, no shame.

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Ian the weekend Manger and the Australian Goon

Somehow most of my friends around Australia from all over the world I’ve met in Waikerie or on that boat. Literally, you can connect them all back. Some of the best friends I’ve made in Australia I met in this small little town. Actually practically all of them. Nothing bonds you quicker than struggling through your regional work. I would love to list them but there are loads, they know who they are. They made recovering from the traumatic farm/cattle work I had done pretty easy. Doing regional work is a life-changing experience no matter who you are. People who lie and don’t do it miss out on the real Australia. And being in a small town where all you can do is talk, joke and tell stories improves your social skills. After 8 weeks, I moved off the boat to better accommodation in Waikerie and as delighted as I was to leave, it was still that bit hard. It becomes yours, it becomes home. You are all part of something and you don’t realise it till you leave. On the downside, you do need a good bit of money to survive your regional work there. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to anyone. It is a bit of scam and the company changes their name often to avoid the bad reviews of ripping off people. I got lucky and got a packing shed job. I met the best group of people whom I couldn’t even begin to name. A lot of people don’t get that lucky. Go there with money and you’ll have a better chance of surviving. I asked a friend of mine Charlene what she thought after surviving the boat, in five words only I asked. ‘I’d do it all again.’ Thinking it over, I totally would too. It was so much fun.

Note: Having met people since who have read this I went to the boat I realise that this concentrates mainly on the positive social experience I had there. But remember its shit. They are just out to exploit you. It is all about how much money they can take from you before getting rid of you. They wield the power of getting 88 days signed off over your head like handcuffs but as do most regional work placements. Also, I was extremely lucky to get into a packing shed. Most of my friends didn’t and they got no work and were completely broke. But then again I never felt like my life was in danger like in other regional work, nor was I at risk of starving. Just start your regional work early in the first year so the employers have less power over you.  And if you think the MRQ is bad, read my other regional work story. Always go where other backpackers are, true safety and better working conditions in numbers. The Murray River Queen though is a very unique place, unique culture and unlike anything I have or will ever experience again.

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Party in the common room
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My last night out on the boat, Nico giving it all with sparklers

5 thoughts on “The Murray River Queen

  1. hey, i’m looking for the number to go here but i can’t find it anywhere!
    do you happen to know it so i could give them a call and see if i can go? much appreciated!

    Like

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