In the Melon Fields, 1997
In the Melon Fields, 1997 Don’t pick the buggers green! I’ll be checking, there’s nothing I don’t see. You get a 20 minute break morning and afternoon. 45 minutes for lunch, don’t muck about, coz I don’t suffer galahs, idiots, morons or buffoons. Don’t be late in the morning, Get yer heads down early at night And don’t go out on the piss! Unless you can stomach picking melons In 35 degree heat, 100% humidity for 9 hours a day under an unforgiving sun. And if you miss a day Coz you were on the grog You’re out, no workshy larrikins Buggering about on my jobs! So, listen good now folks, I repeat it, and this ain’t for fun Don’t pick the buggers green Welcome to Kununurra. Enjoy the sun. I stand in the melon fields Straining my back, sweating buckets As the ripening fruit stacks up And we trail behind a slow-moving tractor 400 metres up, 400 metres back Don’t pick the buggers green, Or you’ll feel the lash and the crack of the Sharp tongue of the hot-head supervisor Stop yakking, work ya buggers, we pay ya to work! As he marches behind checking for green melons Unripe, like his brain cells, the weasel-faced berk. Another melon-day and the Dutchies, the Brits, the Irish, the Germans and French Are sharing entente cordial in an Australian field, A spirit of Zuzammengehörigkeit in a melon trench. Northern Europeans in Northern Aussie Lands, Skin like polished leather, tropically tanned, Clad in soaking vests and stinking sweatbands. Sharing backpacking tales of where they’ve been A 20 minute break to slug some water and munch On the ubiquitous rock melons – Yes, we checked the buggers weren’t green. Sony Walkman passing the hours Melons picked to the thumping metal of Ozzy Osbourne’s Blizzard of Oz; The Prince of Darkness and Randy Rhoads At the height of their powers. Listening to Triple J Radio and the Aussie Rules footie commentary on Baking hot Saturday afternoons Counting the hours and watching the Sun gradually pass overhead, from east to west And start its slide towards the horizon And home time soon. 5:30pm and my back aches, while Muscles ripple and the skin sizzles with heat and sweat. Ready for an evening dip in the pool back at the Backpackers lodge, waiting in the queue with 16 other Housemates to use the shower, the communal kitchen Or just grabbing some almost edible stodge From Chicken Treat or The Action Food Barn. It’s 1997 – a radio carrying news from home. This is the BBC World Service, A voice from afar intones. The Labour Party has won a landslide election victory under the leadership of Tony Blair. I stare at the melons, a seismic shift in politics. Back home, thousands of miles – over there. Land of the whinging Poms, While me and me mates Keep an eye out for snakes and flies Out of our eyes under the Aussie sun. I momentarily forget myself. I pick one of the buggers green, Look at the stalk, whisper to it, Sorry, I’ll put you back, but ssh, Not a word, don’t talk to Hot-Head, Or he’ll be on me Like a ton of Aussie bricks. But the news sticks in my mind, Home and everything is changing. I’ve been in the melon fields for weeks now, Away from home for months and months, Is it time to go home? I’m no longer green, unripe. I’m mature and seasoned and ripe with The world, travel broadening my mind, Young, free, single, ready to party, laugh And mingle, ready to see the world. Not ready to return to the cold and grey Skies of a Britain now turned red. No matter how that appeals. No. Above me the sky begins to redden With the approaching sunset, As if in recognition of the news. I squeeze the last few melons of the day A few more for the tractor, a few more yield. The green ones stay, a few more in the field, I look around at this pan-European team, All bronzed, tired smiles, happy melon-pickers. And walk away, making sure I leave the buggers green. Tony Frobisher
Photo: Kununurra, WA, Australia, 1997.