Blog Post about what it’s like to go back to work for a short while after 5 years of doing your own thing. There will be some minor cross over with Jenny’s last blog post as I wrote this report just over two weeks ago.
Cover Photo: Full Moon rises between the Bucket Elevators at the Wagin CBH Grain Cells.
Summary of the Grain Harvest Work employed as a casual Receival Point Officer for CBH in Wagin.
*33 days employed, earned $9000 gross, (~$6700 net, I will end up with most of the tax returned to me at the end of the financial year).
*Actually worked 27 days with 6 days off. (Returned home twice, 2 nights each visit).
*286 hours worked which averaged out at 10.6 hours per day.
*Average gross hourly pay rate was $31.46 per hour (normal time = $28.30p/h, overtime = $46.10p/h).
*Adequate accommodation & cooking facilities provided (old, functional & clean).
*Gearing up costs for Will before starting the Grain Harvest RPO work. Prescription Safety Glasses $500, Steel Cap Work Boots $170, 2 pairs of long work pants $80. Travel expense $17 for fuel each way (6 trips, 1350kms = $102). Total = $852 (I’ll be able to claim most of the cost back on my next tax return).
Monday 23/12/19. By Will.
I’ve been back home in Mandurah for just over a week now, always nice to be home and great to hang out with Jenny again. The past 6 weeks have proven to be an interesting if at times difficult experience for us both. I’d seriously consider doing casual grain harvest work again. I’d applied for casual harvest work with Co-Operative Bulk Handling (CBH) online back in July and had a successful interview in Katanning on the 29th of August.
During our long drive home from Kambalda, 6 weeks earlier (11/11/19) after catching up with our friends Barry & Nicole for a couple of days my phone rang just after we got close to Southern Cross. It was Tracey from CBH, “how soon can you start in Wagin, Will” ? I explained our current situation and we agreed that the next day, 12pm Tuesday the 12th of November would suit. I didn’t mention that Jenny was having knee replacement surgery on the Wednesday.
11th of November…On our way home from the Goldfields we stop in Southern Cross for a short break. Have just discovered I start work in Wagin tomorrow.
As you can see the timing wasn’t really that ideal for team wiljen, but we had both previously discussed this possibility and the fact that for a 50 years old who hasn’t been employed for 5 years there may not be a second opportunity. Thankfully Jenny’s Mum Lorraine came to the rescue and stepped in to help with Jenny’s surgery requirements. Olivia our youngest daughter looked after Rodgie Dog along with her Fiancé Jake (huge thank you all round).
It was a tough decision for me to leave Jenny to face the Knee Replacement surgery without my help. Once at Wagin I was up front with Rob the Wagin CBH IC upon arrival about my home situation. Rob even helped string 2.5 days off for me after my first 12 days so I could ride home and check up on Jenny.
After 12 days working on the Grain Harvest in Wagin Will heads home for 2 nights to check up on Jenny and see how the Knee Replacement is progressing.
Mandurah, 9am on Tuesday 12th of November, with my Yamaha 1200cc Super Tenere all loaded up I headed off for Wagin, it takes about 2.5 hours (220kms) to ride there via Williams a small agricultural town that sits on the Albany Highway. I ride pass various crops ready for harvest along the way. I’ve heard of people doing the trip in under 2 hours on a motorbike & how they had near misses with suicidal emus between Dwellingup and Boddington.
Arriving at the onsite Wagin CBH Camp around 11.30am I parked up the Bike and unloaded my gear. A young casual RPO (Receival Point Officer) wearing a bright fluoro green polo style shirt & board brim hat wandered over from some nearby “Storage Cells” and introduced himself as Sean. He contacted the IC Rob on his two-way radio to let him know I’d arrived and grabbed me a key for an older Donga style room which happily had its own ensuite.
I soon met the majority of the crew during the 30 minute lunch break & while driving around with Rob for a site familiarisation. Then I got stuck straight into unloading truck loads of barley on grids 5 & 6. Liam another RPO casual who was on his fifth harvest helped give me a crash course, training me in how the whole process went. Working on grids 5 & 6 which feed out to the open air Grain Stacks held in place by angled iron sheet bunker walls via augers, conveyor belts & stackers. Not much protection out there from the sun & weather. Grain dust can be extremely uncomfortable and itchy also.
After a few days my feet were aching quite badly in my brand new Blue Steel boots. I even developed a blister under my big toe nail on my right foot, ultimately both my big toe nails turned black but my feet did toughen up after a week or so. I shared the camp accommodation with Chris, Issac & occasionally Steve (who often just drove home to Katanning after work). Issac was actually working over at the Dumbleyung CBH site. Chris and I quickly sorted out a cooking/dishes roster between us as we both realised that doubling up on the food preparation & cleaning was rather pointless.
A couple of nights a week I’d eat at the Palace Hotel, which is about a 900 metre, 10 minute walk away. Most of the Wagin & Dumbleyung Crew would get together at the Pub after work on a Wednesday for what traditionally is named “Payday Parmy Night”. After dinner we’d all play Pool, I don’t think I lost any games. My 8 Ball Pool skills rapidly returned the more I played. My fellow casual workmates are a young bunch aged between 18-28 years, fortunately I’m still fairly young at heart. The boss, Rob is about my age and turned out to be a top bloke. He stayed well clear of any after hour social activities, which is wise, though the 2-IC, Ben would join us at the Pub for dinner & drinks.
After dinner it was high stakes Pool, good fun. Usually “home” before 10pm.
After my first week the Barely Stack that was fed by grid 5 was full. The Tarpaulin Crew that cover them arrived and rolled out large tarps, fully covering the Stack, it looked like very hard work getting the tarps on. During the early hours of the morning the Tarped Barley Stack was fumigated for bugs and we were all ordered to stay well clear (minimum of 30mtrs) of the area. The higher premium Malt Barley going onto Grid 6 slowed right down, Liam & I relocated to Grids 1 & 2 where the grain is stored in structure called A Types, permanent facilities that were originally constructed at the site back in May 1964. These Grids allow for a lot faster unloading, say 8-10 minutes for a truck with 2 trailers (60 tonne) verses the 15-20 minutes on grids 5/6. There is also much more shade to protect you from the glaring sun.
There was some very hot days of 40C plus on a few occasions. If it became to hot and the wind picked up to 25km/h a Harvest Ban was put in place due to the fire risk, so we would knock off work at 2pm instead of the usual 6.30pm. More often then not we would all do a full 6.30am to 6.30pm, 12 hour day. While the work isn’t generally to physically or mentally hard the long days, heat, wind, chaff & grain dust, with a work day mostly spent on your feet can be extremely taxing.
It is critical to make sure you unload the Grain to the correct stack. Obviously putting a 60 tonne truck load of wheat onto a 6000-16000 tonne stack of oats or barley is not a good idea. Selecting the correct flow path will save you a lot of grief & hard work correcting a major stuff up, getting the unloading wrong is not an option. Rob told me grain mix ups do occasionally happen and the work involved to rectify the mess sounds horrendous.
Barley. Oats. Wheat.
I ended up gaining experience in all the RPO unloading areas at Wagin, must say working at the four Cells (Grids 3 & 4) was my preferred area, out the back at grids 7 & 8 appeared full on, I only did about a day and half in the newer area known as “Outback”. The majority of my days were spent on Grids 1 & 2 more often then not working with Liam. There are also Sampling and Weigh Bridge jobs, all have there various pro’s and con’s. Mostly the young ladies worked in those just as challenging areas.
On Saturday the 14th of December, day 33, I got up extra early at 4.30am (usually I’d get moving for my work day at 5.15am) & packed up all my gear, I gave the room a clean also. It was going to be my last day for the 2019/20 grain harvest season. The work load had backed off and I’d be the third casual to be let go. Earlier in the week I’d spoken to Rob and indicated that I was fine with being put off before some of the other younger (more money motivated) RPO’s. It was going to be another hot day so after 4 hours work Rob said I’d may as well get moving. During the ride home the ambient temperature gauge on my bike was stuck on 40C with it briefly nudging 41C.
I stopped for lunch at the Quindanning Tavern and arrived home just before 2pm only to discover Jenny was over in Pinjarra at her Mums. Rodgie Dog was home to greet me which was nice. Later Rodgie and I took the Landcruiser (which had only been started once over the entire 5 weeks) over to Pinjarra to pick up Jen. Now it’s back to our version of normal home life for awhile.
The Wagin CBH Crew, Rob & Ben are a great bunch of people. Thanks for a memorable experience you lot and the extra spending money will come in handy. Was it worth it ? Yes I think so ! Maybe I’ll see most of you for the 2020/21 Grain Harvest if the planets & stars align for me. Until then enjoy life’s journey & keep creating great memories.
Thanks for reading.
On one of my single days off in Wagin I wandered around and snapped some streetscape photos. Quite a historic Western Australian wheatbelt town and definitely worth spending a couple of nights there if you are ever passing through.