A walk in Maurie’s gumboots
Maurie Cafra gets up around 6am, gets dressed, grabs his mobile and mask.
Outside, pulling on a pair of Red Band gumboots (the nice light ones), Maurie looks out at the silhouettes of poplar, willow and macrocarpa windbreaks.
He checks the BOM rain radar, something he’ll do at least half a dozen times that day.
The weather’s been warm the last fortnight but a hail shower came through yesterday.
Within a few kilometres of where Maurie’s standing ninety per cent of Australia’s asparagus is grown.
Hail worries Maurie, if it’s windy and the hail hits his asparagus sideways, the bruised spots stop growing and the spears curl over.
The forecast is rain later – Maurie grimaces.
There is no place flatter or wetter than Koo Wee Rup – drains run alongside straight roads – McDonalds Road Drain, Mackays Road Drain, Railway Road Drain, Giles Road Drain.
Water moves from drains to creeks – Cardinia Creek, Lower Gum Scrub Creek, Toomuc Creek, Deep Creek and then down into Western Port Bay just a few of kilometres South.
Maurie walks over to the packing sheds – the lack of traffic is a plus, never leaving work has its drawbacks.
He’s been doing this commute since before he can remember – the magpies don’t swoop him, they’ve come to an understanding.
The first person Maurie sees every day is Brian, the farm’s packing shed and sales manager.
The night before Brian’s organised the harvest crew – tractors and veg bins are waiting in place.
Thirty people – reflecting waves of migration from England, Italy, Vietnam, Romania, India and Vanuatu – arrive to harvest and pack.
Many have worked with Maurie for years – they’ve come on boat journeys, escaped soldiers or COVID decimated economies – others will appear briefly and leave seeking easier work.
Maurie knows cutting asparagus is a slog – starting as early as 2am, working by torchlight, walking five kilometres a day in diving boots, cutting 300kgs of asparagus – it’s not for everyone.
Some people, earbuds in, grit their teeth and cut alone. The crew from Vanautu stick together, calling out as they work, keeping each other going.
Maurie checks the weather app for rain, nothing. He looks up, three black cockatoos have resumed tearing up the sheoak seeds they started on yesterday.
The day passes, everyone comes in, everything that needed to be cut is back in the shed, tractors and bins are out ready for tomorrow.
Maurie waves everyone off, but a constantly-evolving juggling act spins inside his head.
Too much rain, no rain, cultivate, plant, wait, too cold, not enough to pick, too hot, too much to pick, finding more work, finding more workers, poor prices, bogged tractors, broken irrigation systems, around and around.
As he walks home under his magpies Maurie thinks for a second – if he just grew asparagus and left out the onions, sweet corn, beans, pumpkins, capsicums, eggplant, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, fennel, artichokes and kale his life would be so much simpler…he dismisses the thought just as quickly and takes off his gumboots.
Have a great week