Teenage Farm Labour

Tin ShedDriving north past retreating suburbs against the morning traffic was the best part of the job.  The low lime green hills and pungent tea tree forests rising up beside the winding single lane highway were a welcome relief from the jumble of industrial warehouses, scrap metal yards and billboards that littered the outskirts of town.

A stillness descended on the hot concrete road as the traffic slowly thinned, until at last I had the highway to myself, and could admire the pattern of grey anthills punctuating the scrub as it flew past, keeping time with the rhythm of the music on the radio.

I never knew the actual address, but had to judge the distance about a mile past where the water pipeline running alongside the road all the way from town suddenly rose up to straddle a steep slope on the left, then watch for an unmarked turnoff onto an orange dirt road.  Just after making the turn, you could see the broken down sign for Shady Glen Poultry Farm on the right, collapsed into the scrub after the last cyclone.  No one ever checked whether I started work by 9 am each day.

I’d push the heavy trolley into the corrugated iron warehouse where hundreds of once-white birds were housed in tiny multistorey cages. Trays at the bottom caught the eggs as they rolled down after being layed.  These warm eggs had to be collected by hand, then cleaned, sorted and boxed by lunchtime.  Feed trays also had to be filled.  There was time after that to read a book and eat a packed lunch under a tree, before working through an identical afternoon shift by knock-off time at five.

All of this seems idyllic until you factor in the sound of a thousand screaming birds whenever anyone entered their sweltering warehouse – a terrifying collective shriek that didn’t stop until after that person had vacated this prison.  Those birds feared and hated human beings for good reason.  Shady Glen Poultry Farm was their Auschwitz.