My wife Helen and I were relieved to finally turn off grey asphalt roads almost melting under the powerful South Australian summer sun, and to drive our caravan into a shady camping lot.
The acres of vineyards beyond the camp immediately came into view. Most of the plump clusters of sultanas hanging on the vines had ripened, begun to turn brown and needed to be picked immediately.
For the next few days Helen sent me off to the employment office with her customary two cheese sandwiches and a large bottle of water. Along with the many others that had gathered in their caravans, I hoped to catch some decently paying seasonal work as a picker.
I came to the office this particular morning at 8.30. As usual, the daily queue of hopefuls had already formed.
"G'day, Simon," I called to the man I met the day before. "Did you have any success yesterday?"
"Nah! But they reckon there's grapes to be picked," he answered, still managing to sound upbeat. "Ah, here's the vineyard boss already," he added, nodding towards a man approaching the queue.
The boss seemed a jovial sort of bloke.
"I'll take you and you," he said, walking past the line of men without really looking at whom he was picking.
The rest of us were left to wait in the heat outside. It was frustrating knowing that one could have just as easily been sweating picking grapes and getting paid, as sitting outside, sweating and doing nothing.
The boss came past three times that day: morning, lunch time and late in the afternoon. Each time he grabbed a few more men who left happy for at least something.
Each time I missed out, but chose to hang around to chat with the others left behind before I set off home.
"Seeya tomorrow again I guess," I said.
"Yeh, seeya," they each replied - all on the note of D... for Depressed.
I had almost left, when to all our surprise the boss appeared for the fourth time that day. It was just before closing time.
He looked at us saying, " Aren't you guys bored with loafing around all day? I have some work for you."
We men looked at each other. I raised my eyebrows, shrugged my shoulders and replied to the boss, "We're with you boss! Let's go fellas!"
So we all jumped in the back of his van.
When we arrived at the vineyard, we picked as fast as we could - and were happy to do it.
All the men in the vineyard worked until the sun was setting, when the boss called us over to be paid. I felt great, but felt a bit guilty finishing the day's work with so much energy in reserve.
For some reason, the last group was the first to be paid.
This particular boss turned out to be a special sort of bloke.
"Here's a day's pay for you lot," he said, handing us each a hundred dollar note.
" We did alright!" I thought to myself. "The missus will be pleased. But those other blokes hired before us should do well. Half their luck!"
I could not resist hanging around to listen in to what the boss would give to those who were hired first. I certainly did not expect to hear the conversation that followed.
"Here's a hundred dollars. Thanks for your good day's work," he said.
You should have seen the look on those guys' mugs! You would have thought that the man had asked them for a hundred dollars.
'But we worked all day, not like those bludgers whom you hired at five and paid a hundred dollars to," one protested.
The boss looked over at us, then back at them, smiled and fair knocked me over with what he said.
" You blokes did a decent day's work. I appreciate it. I paid you what I said I would. But I felt like being generous to those guys I hired at the end of the day."
Again he looked over to us and nodded. We looked back and waved to him.
The boss turned back to the men and asked, " You don't mind me being generous do you? Maybe you blokes will be the last ones to be hired next time."
I could not wait to get home that night to tell the missus about this great bloke and how a fella's luck can change when he least expects it.
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