In one of the summer holidays when I was at University, my aunt and uncle got me a job at a peach orchard not far from their home and said I could stay with them.
I started off down in the orchard – those long surprisingly dark aisles of burgeoning foliage. I always found them kind of spooky, not luxurious and romantic as I had expected. But soon I was taken up to work in the packing shed. I guess I wasn’t fast enough or strong enough to be a truly efficient picker.
In the packing shed, you stood beside a huge bin of fruit and you sorted it by size and by ripeness and you washed it in a solution of bleach and water. It was slightly cooler in the shed than outside and the huge double doors let in the breeze and whatever insects were biting that season. I was constantly being told “Use two hands” because I would focus on the fruit in one hand and forget to keep the other one busy too. I don’t think I was ever a favourite employee.
One day, as we worked, a wind whipped up outside and there was a sense of tension. The woman who ran the packing shed muttered “Hail storm’s coming. Fruit’s gonna be wrecked.”
I kept working realizing that, for this woman, a hail storm could wreck a year’s earnings. Suddenly the woman nudged me. “Your car’s outside, love. Better go and bring it in under shelter. It might get damaged out there.” I looked out to my faded blue Mazda, wondering if I fancied running across the hundred or so metres to get it. Small tractors pulling trailers loaded with buckets of fruit were coming up from the orchard. People were running past calling instructions to each other.
“Go on!” she urged. I smiled at her by way of a thank you and then made my dash. The hail had started – small pelting stones of it that pinged off my head uncomfortably. I wrapped my arms over my head which meant I had no peripheral vision and didn’t see a dog, who was also running for cover, and tripped right over it. I smeared face-first onto the gravel driveway, feeling like a complete klutz and coming back up with a huge, bloody graze on my knee. I limped painfully to my car and drove it under cover.
The rest of the afternoon was a blur of fly-swatting, trying to keep the critters off my bloody knee. I think the kind woman in the packing shed sent me home early. I remember lying in my aunt and uncle’s bath thinking that I really wasn’t looking forward to going back tomorrow. I didn’t last much longer in that job.
In retrospect those hail stones were tiny. Probably the size of your average frozen pea. They pinged out of the sky at a good rate and I’m sure they could do some nasty damage to the succulent globe of a ripening peach. But this year, in January, a very different kind of hailstorm hit Canberra. The stones were almost as big as a small peach and smashed windows, cars, sky lights, and water heaters. Trees got shredded and something like 30,000 insurance claims were made. P got some good footage of himself driving through it in our Tesla Model 3, trying to find somewhere under cover.
It was mayhem. I think I would’ve hidden in the boot.