My Australian Journey #22: The day the farmer set his field on fire (and my escape to Townsville)

James, a friend I met during my farmwork (coincidentally from the same area of the UK and with the same birthday as me) asked if I wanted to go for a drive with him one day.

‘You want to see a sugar cane burning?’ he asked… ‘My farmer is setting his field on fire and has invited me along.’

I mean, who would say no?

James worked for a different farmer, we all shared a working hostel but were split onto different farms. There were various reasons for this. The time of year we got to the hostel, our height, ability and individual strengths to name a few. It seemed very old school to have someone look you up and down and decide there and then what farm would suit you best, but I guess it is needed on a farm when turnover is so high and workers are needed in such a small time frame. Many workers dropped out after their first few shifts, sometimes after just a few hours into their first. If they weren’t sacked first.

Thankfully I was warned by another good friend I met on the farm, Alex, about how trigger happy farmers were regarding firing workers and getting new ones in. We saw backpackers come in that were expecting a pleasant ease into a role like it was a 9-5 job in the city. And those same workers were taken off the farm on a quad, taken back to the farmers house and shot.

Only kidding, they were just put on a minibus back after the new worker from the hostel was told a new person was needed. It would only take 30 minutes to fire someone and have the new person hired and picking fruit in the exact same spot.

I constantly feared a sacking and worked as if I was under constant surveillance. It worked.


As hostile as it sounds, these farmers have big businesses to run in short time frames with lots and lots of produce. The money here is huge, and we had to remind ourselves in this sleepy town that there is a hell of a lot of money at stake every season. And when a farmer likes you, they like you. And they will happily help you get your days done and ensure you get the full Australian farmwork experience while you’re at it. The below video is one example.

A memory I will remember for a long time is constantly seeing these fires burn around the town. Burdekin is a region of Queensland that still burns the cane. Plenty of water nearby means the cane gets leafy, resulting in it being very difficult and time consuming to cut. Setting it alight speeds up this process.

‘Burdekin snow’ is the name of the ash that rains down over the town during this time, and is a regular sight.


I am not sure if the cyclist below caught a glimpse of this on his drive through, I found this guy eating a well deserved pizza on route from Cairns down to the Gold Coast. I did post about the 91 hour, 1,820km bike ride here, and wonder how he got on.


I would be lying if I wasn’t a little jealous of him making a quick ride through without having to stop and pick watermelons 10 hours a day. So it felt very good when I completed my 88 days in August 2018 and was able to head an hour north to Townsville, a small city that seemed like NYC in comparison to Ayr. The gorgeous beach and ocean glistening in front of Magnetic Island was the most welcoming sight after such a long stint in the fields.

And the chair below had the right idea. I needed a beer.


I was able to say I had another full year to spend traveling Australia, and after spending half of my first year gaining my second I wanted to make the most of it.

Next stop down, the Whitsundays!



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    • I am glad you have got some ideas of places to visit! Sadly (and stupidly) I never visited New Zealand, so it is still on my list of places to see. Hopefully I have enough posts for places you would like to see in Australia 🙂


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