Cork to Oz during the pandemic: ‘Harvest 2020 better be worth it’

Would you consider wearing a face mask for nearly 30 hours, then getting a police escort to a hotel in Perth, and staying in a room without access to fresh air – all to work on the 2020 harvest in Western Australia?

Two west Cork men did – and according to one of them, “harvest 2020 better be worth it”.

From his hotel room in Perth a few days into his quarantine, Andrew Shorten, an agricultural technician who will be working on a farm in Oz, told AgriLand the details of his journey to Australia during the middle of a global pandemic.

In the first of this three-part series which you can read below, Shorten detailed the process of how he, along with Adam Power, applied for travel exemptions to go to Australia to work on the harvest at Arkle Farms for the next four months.

Also Read: How did ‘critical’ agricultural skills get a Cork man to Oz during a global pandemic?

The men were successful in getting the necessary exemptions, and booked flights with jobs awaiting them…all that was left for Shorten and Power to do was to embark on their journey ‘down under’- which AgriLand has now documented in this second part of the series.

From west Cork to Perth

Last Friday (September 11), Shorten finished up his job, in which he had been working as a tractor technical specialist with CLAAS UK. Having been working from home in west Cork since the pandemic began, he was in Dublin Airport for 6:00am on Saturday for the first leg of the journey to Western Australia.

The first flight took him and Power to London Heathrow – which was “all over the place”, according to Shorten.

“The whole thing was very strict, but very well organised. When flying, the middle seat was free and people sat on the window and aisle seats.

“It was mad how busy London Heathrow was compared to Dublin or Doha – Heathrow was all over the place, the busiest of the airports we stopped at.”

They flew from Heathrow to Doha, in Qatar, then from there to Perth.

They got their temperatures checked at each airport, along with changing face masks and visors before boarding flights. Airport staff were in contact with officials in Australia informing them that they had no symptoms, and to ensure that everything was fine with their exemptions.

Once they landed in Australia, they were sat down with a police officer to go through what would happen for the next 14 days – their quarantine period.

Police escorts and hotel life

There are few occasions in life in which someone gets a police escort and for Shorten and Power, this was one of them.

“We were then picked up by a bus from the airport which police escorted to the hotel – I think there were about three or four police cars in front of the bus – it was like taking us to prison!” Shorten laughs.

“Adam is on the 18th floor of the hotel and I am on the 22nd – we were separated on arrival.”

The rules are strict in Oz – there can be up to a AU$50,000 fine or 12-month prison sentence for breaking the 14-day quarantine. Quarantine is not cheap either – the hotel room costs AU$180 per day, which is sometimes paid by an employer and other times, not. Shorten didn’t have a say in where he stayed. Even the flights can be of great expense – due to a scarce number of flights. Power flew in business class, as it was the only seat left when booking.

“We got off the bus, taken straight to hotel rooms, and we can’t leave them whatsoever for 14 days. There isn’t a window to open, just air conditioning, so no fresh air either,” Shorten continued.

“There are three meals a day – which are brought in a paper bag and left at the door of the room. The hotel staff give three knocks and we have to wait 10 seconds before going to the door to pick it up. We can order one takeaway or Uber Eats a day as well.

“The nurse phones quite often wanting to know how I’m feeling and if I have any symptoms. We got a Covid test taken on day two of quarantine and we have to take another one on day 12 before we leave – we get to leave obviously if the tests are negative.

Staying in a hotel is tough but sure at least it’s a 5-star hotel. There is a crane working on a new building outside the window, that’s about as exciting as it gets.

Luckily for the lads, plenty of excitement lies ahead when they make the eight-hour journey to Esperance to Arkle Farms after their quarantine. How will Shorten and Power contribute to sustainable farming in their new jobs? Stay tuned to AgriLand for the final in our three-part series about the value of agricultural skills in Australia.