Australiana

Inside the Drunk, Violent World of Tree Planting in Victoria’s Bush

It wrecks your body, but fills your wallet.

by Nat Kassel
05 February 2018, 3:25am

Illustrations by Ashley Goodall

Words by a guy named Pat, as told to Nat Kassel

In 2017 I made $60,000 in four and a half months. It was my fourth season and I’m now the second fastest planter in my crew. I managed to put 187,600 pine trees in the ground, which will become about 52.6 hectares of forest. That forest will be there for the next 25 years, until it's chopped down for timber and any remaining saplings are torched via flamethrower from a helicopter. And in case you were wondering—yes, it’s sick to watch them do that.

I grew up in Tassie. I’m not qualified for anything. I’ve never done a smart job and instead I’ve always been drawn to the kind of work where you get paid for what you do, rather than hourly. My first job was picking cherries in an orchard but I heard planting was better money, so I moved over to the mainland and ended up planting trees around rural Victoria.

A day of tree planting starts at 5 AM. You work the entire day, with maybe one quick meal. We normally stay in caravan parks or these bush huts that the companies own. The bush huts have power but the walls are all fucked and it’s almost like a squat. You can’t even really make the house nice because all the boys are lazy and leave their shit everywhere. One time, the boss skitzed out and smashed all the plates in one of the houses to teach us a lesson.

It’s a pretty hostile and shitty environment to be in. You’re living with a whole bunch of heavy dudes and you never get away from them, for months. You work miles out in the bush, and then you drive back into town to sleep and everyone gets maggot drunk. It's also taken me a long time to realise that lots of people bang up shard to work. A lot of people are on the shard in rural Victoria.

I still remember my second day of work. We all went and had drinks at a pub in Albury called Paddy’s and everyone in the crew lost money on the pokies. I didn’t play the pokies and neither did my mate so we just got pissed. Then when we got back one of the guys—this big bald fuckwit—was storming around the house in gumboots yelling, “Where the fuck is my jacket?” I was like, “I dunno, man,” and he punched me straight in the eye and told me to go find it for him. I was like, “I’m not your fucking mum,” and then he punched me again. Eventually, this other guy came in and started double-arm punching him in the head so hard and so fast, for ages.

His ear went all purple and swollen and they fought for 45 minutes. I’ve never seen a fight go for so long. They were bleeding a bit but their faces were really swollen. Eventually they got tired and stopped, so we put one of them on the couch and the other one on the floor. We all went to sleep, then woke up in the middle of the night to find they were fighting again.

At one point, one of them picked up a red-hot train bolt off the fire, then started punching the other in the face with it. That fucked him up pretty quick. His whole nose went sort of flattish and looked super yuck. So we pulled them off each other again because someone was probably going to die if we left them to it.

I remember wondering that night, what have I got myself into? And my mate was like, “Don’t be a poofter mate, this is the bush.”

So yeah, my first year was really gnarly, but then as the younger generation of planters came through. They were just smoking weed all the time and it was fine. I only got in one punch-on last year.


On the topic of booze culture in the bush, watch our doco on B&S balls:


A lot of bosses run their businesses with a “divide and conquer” mentality. One boss, if he found out that someone was throwing away trees or tallying their boxes wrong or whatever, he would dock all of our pay so he didn’t have to figure out who was stealing from him. That started heaps of fights because we had to sort it out on our own.

This year, there was a guy who was doing his tallies wrong and throwing away trees or whatever, and we figured out that it was him so we had a gnarly group talk. It was like, “There will be no witnesses if you get beaten up.” I was angry. I reckon the guy was costing me like $300 a week in docked pay, which adds up. Eventually, one dude pushed him to the ground. He didn’t hit him, but just scared the guy. The guy who was stealing ended up leaving after that.

Because you’re making so much money every week, you tolerate a lot. Like, you’d be pretty pissed off, but then you see your pay packet at the end of the week and it’s a lot of money. Everyone who does it is a hard worker; the ones who aren’t hard workers don’t last.

There’s a lot of time out there to think about stuff. I usually think about ex-girlfriends, future plans, what I’d do if I won the Lottery. Sometimes I also think up song lyrics or just talk shit with whoever comes past. The views out there are lovely. Eagles are a daily sight and if you see a kangaroo or a wombat it’s a day-maker.

I kind of like escaping the city to just go and be in the bush, working hard, and drinking piss. You end up walking like 15 kilometres a day so I’m really fit. And I think after last year, I’ll go back and do it again, but I'll need a couple of years off because it’s just so taxing. I’ve probably spent years in the forest, not having a proper girlfriend and not being able to see my friends when I want to.

You get sort of stuck out there and if you try to take time off to see people you care about then you get fired. I wanted to go and see my Dad last year because his knee was fucked but the boss threatened to sack me. So I didn't, but now I can do that stuff. I think I'll give tree planting a miss this year and reconnect with the outside world.

As told to Nat Kassel