Colin F. Jones

~ Once Upon A Time ~

In the mid fifties I took on some work for an owner of a Banana plantation in Coffs Harbour on the North Coast of New South Wales Australia. I was there to cut bunches of Bananas from the stools, carry them to the packing shed, and later “de-hand’ them and pack them into wooden cases to be ‘dipped’ then sent off to market.

There were others working on the thirty odd acres, chipping weeds with sturdy hoes, and cutting out the water suckers that grew at the base of the stools. They also did the ‘thrashing” (cutting away the dead leaves with a cane knife).

A banana plant is called a “stool”; it bears a bunch from a flower after about nine months. It throws up several suckers at its base, one of which is nurtured, that it grows in place of the original stool when it is cut down after the bunch is removed. In Coffs Harbour the plantations are on the slopes of the surrounding small mountains, to keep them free of frost, which would kill them. The process of cutting down the old stool to allow a new one to grow often means that the plants seem to ‘walk’ up the mountainside.

The other workers were black fellas, Aborigine people. Their camps were along the beachfront in an area called “happy Valley”.

While I was there the elder of the family group working in the Plantation came down shyly to the packing shed to speak with the owner.

“Hey, boss!” he said rubbing his stomach, “Plenty hungry, no tucker, boss. Plenty work hard, fambly want eat.”

The owner was a very big obese man, who I doubt had, had a bath for a month or more.

“You lazy black bastard, get back to work!!” was the owner’s reply.

Bravely the Aboriginal man though taking a couple of frightened steps backwards held his ground.

“Boss – no pay no tucker plenty broke…”

It was then that the owner noticed the Gin, or Lubra, (Aborigine woman) standing in the shadows behind him.

“You want pay” he said, “me I want a bit of velvet. You leave the chocolate legs here I give you little pay, you go back to work”

He pulled out a ten-shilling note and handed it to the hungry black man.

“Now back to work, hey! Leave the lubra – I want a bit of her!”

Sadly the man returned to where he was working leaving the woman behind.

“Bloody lazy bastards” he said to me “They are worse than you pommies, although you seem to be ok. Give ‘em money and they go walkabout, get on the Nellie and that’s the last you see of them.”

Then to the woman who was shyly hiding behind a banana stool: “Come over here you black bitch, we got a lot of shagging to do.” He grabbed her by the arm and took her up to the small house above the packing shed.

I packed my bag and left.