A Day in the Life: Very merry about berries
AT FIVE feet tall, Fhey Martin says she's almost the perfect height for a blueberry picker, a job she has done for more than 20 years.
Picking blueberries means crouching down to reach the underside of the bush, and her height makes the task easier.
"Except when the bushes are too tall," she jokes.
Working at Blueberry Fields in Brooklet, south of Bangalow, she is the leading hand of a small army of fruit pickers that rise and fall with the passage of the harvest season between September and April.
Mrs Martin is now there 12 months of the year along with a core crew of old hands.
A typical day begins early, at around 6.30am, and can finish as late as 5pm.
Part of her job will be to decide how many pickers the orchard might need and deciding when to stop, based on the heat and moisture in the air.
"If it is too hot we have to stop because the fruit becomes too soft," she said.
"We also can't pick when it's wet, so stay at home. That's our day off - sometimes we need a break too!"
To help check the fruit is perfectly ripe for picking she needs to constantly taste the berries, one of the highlights of the job. "It's a free breakfast for me in the morning," she laughs.
Originally from the Philippines, Mrs Martin came to Australia 24 years ago and has lived in Ballina ever since. One her children, her son, is off to university this year, of which she is naturally proud.
On a big day she might supervise 50 pickers with an experienced picker filling 25-30 buckets.
In the 30-plus degree heat and humidity of summer, it can be a hard job.
And if the crop gets wiped out by hail, there's no work at all.
So she prays for good weather every year.
The secret to enjoying the work is pretty simple for her: staying positive and have a sense of humour, something which seems to come naturally to Mrs Martin.
"If you don't have teamwork in your job, it's useless," she says.
"Enjoying it and having fun is the secret."