All posts by Mike Barrow

Mike arrived in Sydney in 1989 as a typical British backpacker with $17 and one phone number. He also decided Sydney was paradise living in a three bedroom unit with 17 other backpackers. He eventually managed to get a proper job in a small backpacking publishing company. After spending four years trying to get residency, Mike finally 'got in' and set up his own company, Travel Maps Australia in 1993. In 2000 the Company rebranded to THE WORD and in 2014 started The Byte. Mike lives in Sydney's northern beaches, keeps fit and healthy and wouldn't live anywhere else.

Backpackers working with BlazeAid create a bridge between varied cultures and fire-devastated farmers

Playing Monopoly or building a volleyball court in a showground in a country town are not the images usually associated with international backpackers spending up to two years in Australia.

A veritable league of nations is assisting with the rebuilding of fences and other farm infrastructure across NSW after bushfires ravaged the state earlier this year.

For international backpackers in Australia, their holiday was likely to be cut short because of being unable to work due to strict coronavirus guidelines.

Making a difference

Scottish BlazeAid backpacker volunteers for fencing
Ben Braid found himself fencing as a BlazeAid volunteer after his working holiday in the fitness industry was halted due to coronavirus.(Supplied: Marilyn Spence)

They received a reprieve when the Government allowed people like Ben Braid from Scotland to carry out volunteer work with organisations like BlazeAid assisting farmers to rebuild their fences destroyed in the fires.

“When you rebuild, and the farmer looks back and sees the old fences back up and working, it makes you feel a lot better realising that you have helped,” Mr Braid who is in his first year of his working visa.

It is a sentiment shared by numerous overseas backpackers who have had their journey across the globe greatly changed because of the pandemic.

Guidelines to follow

It is a long way from Kent in England to the Wingham Showground which is home to 29-year-old Sophie Hampton while she works with Ben Braid and other volunteers.

“There is a big track that goes around, and we’ve been doing a lot of running and things like yoga. We are trying to keep active as much as possible.

“Listening to music and sitting around a fire is popular. Card games as well and Monopoly is a big one which becomes quite competitive.”

All of this happens at the end of the day after returning from the various farms.

Their efforts are being governed by strict guidelines which set out how they must live and carry out their BlazeAid duties.

International backpackers fulfil visa requirements as BlazeAid volunteers
he backpackers head out each day from BlazeAid camps building fences on the bushfire properties such as this one at Bobin.(Supplied: Marilyn Spence)

While much has been relaxed, many of the normal day to day activities such as shopping are done for them.

In the south of the state, the guidelines are a little more relaxed, as there are fewer people to encounter in the areas where the work is being conducted.

A BlazeAid team is camped on the western edge of the Snowy Mountains, at the showground in the tiny village of Tooma near Tumbarumba.

Here the Dunn’s Road bushfire tore through thousands of hectares of valuable farmland, orchards, national park and pine forests.

Different encounters

The Tooma showground is stark and like the Wingham showground the teams are living in vans, swag or tent although at Wingham there are several shipping containers converted to living quarters.

The conditions are very different to what backpackers would normally encounter on the more worn paths of young international travellers.

It has even led to Erika Bayard from France who helps co-coordinate the Tooma BlazeAid team to note that while the work may be quite physical, there is the question of added calories.

This is due to Argentinian volunteer Genoveva Cabrera, a qualified chef ensuring the camp food is first class. “We get amazing food every day, we’re getting fat.

“Which is surprising as we’re working so hard,” Ms Bayard said.

“We’re eating all these home-made cakes and everything. We’re pretty lucky. Sometimes a nice farmer comes along with fresh lamb and we have a nice roast.”

‘Amazing and grateful’

It is that contact with locals and the work that they are doing in a rural area that Ms Bayard believes adds to the experience.

“We’re getting to know real Australian culture, and everyone is so friendly and so open. “They’re so amazing and so grateful to have people coming from all around the world to help them and we’re having a great time with everyone here.”

It is a sentiment echoed by Marilyn Spence who along with husband Geoff had the international BlazeAid backpackers out to their Bobin property near Wingham for five weeks.

The fire forced them to sell off much of their Brangus cattle with the remainder going to their son’s property in the Hunter Valley.

The backpackers-come-fencers repaired four kilometres of boundary fences.

“We’ve had around eight different nationalities. They were keen to learn. Could not fault them. Never a grumble never a complaint. The bubble and laughter were wonderful,” Mrs Spence said.

Back home hears of their work

From au pair to rebuilding bushfire affected farm infrastructure
Twenty-four-year-old Lucie Arguel-Paraire went from being an au pair in a holiday resort on a working visa to fencing.(Supplied: Marilyn Spence)

So impressed was Mrs Spence, that she did a “mothering thing” after the volunteers had finished. “I wanted the parents to know how wonderful they were and a delight.

“I thought their parents would like to know, so sent a few photos and a letter saying thank you for allowing them to travel and to have them around.”

Ms Bayard said they looked forward to restrictions easing to welcome more members to the crew which is a far cry from most people’s lockdown experience.

“My friends back home in Europe or in lockdown in the cities, they can’t get out of their place and they’re bored out of their mind.

“They’re texting me every day and I don’t have time to text them back because we’re so busy here.

“The biggest issue we have in lockdown is trying to get new volunteers while keeping everyone safe and trying not to spread the virus in a small community like Tooma.”

source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Temporary visa holders hit hard by coronavirus shutdowns turn to charities

There are concerns some temporary visa holders who’ve lost work in the Riverina area because of coronavirus shutdowns can’t afford basic necessities and are facing homelessness and destitution.

The Red Cross said the Riverina Murray region had one of the largest temporary visa workforces in the country and many had no access to financial support.

Key points:

  • The Red Cross is concerned about temporary visa holders who can’t afford basic necessities
  • Many aren’t eligible for government support schemes and are turning to charities for help
  • The Riverina Murray region has one of the largest temporary visa workforces in the country

Riverina regional manager of migration support programs Neil Barber said more people were turning to charities for help.

“Even if they’ve been here for years working or studying and paying tax, they’re not eligible for a lot of the services available to most people in Australia like Centrelink,” Mr Barber said.

“Many of them have been reliant on people they know in the community who have more resources, utilising savings or seeking support from home where they can get it.”

“They’ve also been turning in increasing numbers to various charities, such as the Salvation Army, Anglicare and St Vincent De Paul.

The Red Cross has been given $7 million by the Federal Government to help temporary visa holders in desperate need.

“When the program was announced in mid-April there were over 8,000 inquiries nationally,” Mr Barber said.

He said there had been a steady increase in people on bridging visas, skilled migrants, students and backpackers needing help in the Riverina Murray but said some may need more help.

“This is emergency relief, it’s not income support,” he said.

“It’s a one-off payment when they’re really struggling with food, medicine or shelter so depending on how long they’re disadvantaged for, there may be need for ongoing support at a local level.”

ED: Is Federal Government doing enough to assist those on Temporary Visas? Comments please….

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Letter to Government from Adventure Tourism Victoria

The Federal Government has a critical responsibility to continue the JobKeeper program as it was originally announced on 30 March 2020.

That’s why today Adventure Tourism Victoria ( ATV ), on behalf of its members, is writing in support of the JobKeeper program as it was originally announced.

Employers have only just begun to receive financial support as MPs start to endorse JobKeeper rollback.

This cannot happen. With hospitality businesses still shut, state and national borders still closed, and air travel all but halted, tourism will struggle way past the 27th of September, never mind recover before that date. JobKeeper is absolutely imperative to get tourism businesses through this period .

The Federal Government’s instruction to businesses was clear: “Keep paying your employees.” If businesses could not afford to make payroll, the Federal Government directed them to take out private, government-backed loans, with businesses taking on the cost of financing.

Now, businesses have implemented plans to make the most of their staffs’ time on the JobKeeper, enrolling them in upskilling, taking on renovations, and embarking on product development.

As a result, ATV members have taken on significant risk in response to the JobKeeper announcement.

The withdrawal or rollback to JobKeepers would also affect commercial rental relief for our members.

Upon the Federal Government’s direction, Victoria introduced new acts and regulations such as:

● COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020

● COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) (Commercial Leases and Licences) Regulations 2020

Both Omnibus bills define eligibility by whether “the tenant qualifies for, and is a participant in, the Jobkeeper scheme” (COVID-19 Omnibus (Emergency Measures) Act 2020 section 13 (b) (2)).

By bringing the JobKeeper program into doubt, commercial landlords are given a perverse incentive not to negotiate in good faith, but bide their time till JobKeepers is withdrawn.

ATV welcomes the debate over the implementation of JobKeeper. Yet this debate must regard further expansions or extensions of the program. To roll back the JobKeeper program before it has completed its initial run leaves already vulnerable businesses even more exposed.

We trust the Federal Government will honour its commitments and continue the JobKeeper program through 27 September, as originally announced.


John O’Sullivan

On behalf of Adventure Tourism Victoria

Adventure Tourism Victoria (ATV) is a not-for-profit organisation comprised of 43 adventure tourism operators throughout Victoria. Our members comprise of tour operators, backpacker hostels, transportation companies and travel tech organisations.

ABN 67205234405

Press Contact: John O’Sullivan, Executive Committee Member & Founding Director of Walks 101 / 0403647923 /

New Leadership for YHA Australia

The Board of Directors is pleased to announce the election of Tracey Powell as Chair, and the commencement of Paul McGrath as the new CEO for YHA Australia.

Tracey Powell was formerly Vice-Chair of YHA Australia and has served on YHA Boards for the past ten years. She is the Principal of an Adelaide-based Business & Marketing Consultancy. Tracey was elected Chair of the YHA Board (currently comprising of eight Directors) following the organisation’s Annual General Meeting on 18 April 2020.

Paul McGrath commenced as CEO of YHA Australia on 27 April 2020. He holds responsibility for a network of over 60 youth hostels across Australia; a base of 400,000 members; over 200 employees, and annual organisational turnover of AUD $46M. Paul will be based in Sydney.

On Paul’s commencement, Chair Tracey Powell said: “We are really excited for Paul to join YHA at such a pivotal time in the business. Paul brings a wealth of industry knowledge and experience with him, in addition to valuable global marketing, brand and digital innovation skills. Paul’s customer-centric approach and strong alignment to our values, vision and mission will enable him to successfully lead a thriving and sustainable YHA of the future.”

Paul McGrath said that the opportunity to lead YHA – an iconic tourism organisation, and leader in the youth travel sector – was an honour. “We are currently dealing with significant global challenges, and I look forward to leading YHA to re-build from the foundations up, once the recovery in tourism begins. YHA has a close alignment to my personal values, and a strong reputation as a place of passionate people, incredible assets, and with a solid legacy” he said.

Paul McGrath replaces long-standing CEO, Julian Ledger, who is standing down after over 40 years with YHA in Australia. The Chair of YHA said: “We would like to recognise the enormous contribution of Julian Ledger as CEO. During his leadership, YHA has transformed into a unified, national organisation, and the network has grown to its current size and quality, with many award-winning properties. Julian has also been a leader in the wider youth tourism sector, and a proponent for high standards across the travel accommodation industry.”

More information about YHA can be found at

YHA is a membership-based not-for-profit organisation, and part of the world’s largest budget accommodation network for travellers, Hostelling International (HI), with 3,000 youth hostels in 60 countries. In Australia, YHA recently celebrated 80 years since founding in 1939.

Source: YHA Australia

What has coronavirus done to the millennial version of the great Australian dream?

Locked out of a housing market that blew out beyond their means, young Australians have embraced a different way of living in recent years.

If Australia can’t provide a house, they figured, then the world would become their home.

And if their work can’t be secure, then they would make insecurity a virtue and float from one place to the next.

Through both desire and necessity, the great Australian dream for many millennials isn’t a big house and backyard — it’s the ability to travel widely and live and work anywhere but here.

Now that dream has come to an end as well.

Backpackers walking over a bridge
Traveling abroad is something of a rite of passage for many young people.(Flickr: Slim Teller)

Charting the wanderlust

In the decades before COVID-19, Australia was experiencing a slow but remarkable shift.

We were increasingly travelling overseas.

What was a trickle in 1990 became a flood by last year, where almost 12 million international trips were recorded by Australian residents. That’s almost one trip for every second Australian.

And the group that left our shores the most? Those aged 30-34.

In fact, people aged 25-34 took almost the same number of overseas trips last year as all Australians took in 1990.

Within one generation heading abroad went from being a luxury of the few to an expectation of the many.

We can be a bit insufferable about it, actually.

Ask an Aussie where to visit and they will probably reel off a list of places and throw in some pointers about where you can get a “real” New York steak or why the Eiffel Tower is overrated and packed with tourists anyway.

At the same time, home ownership among that same 25-34 cohort has been in decline.

The majority now rent privately and are putting off buying until later in life (if that’s even possible then).

You might argue that the reason millennials aren’t buying houses is because they’re spending all their money on holidays, but that doesn’t really stack up.

At least, it’s not the only reason. Wages just haven’t kept up with prices.

Median house prices have increased from about four times the median income in the early 1990s — when many of their parents bought — to more than seven times by 2018, according to the Grattan Institute.Coronavirus update: Follow all the latest news in our daily wrap

‘There’s just so much more out there’

Millennials like Rina Laino know this well.

The 26-year-old production manager was born and raised in Melbourne. Her dad and grandparents migrated to Australia from Italy in the great post-war wave and quickly set about establishing roots here.

“So for them, the first and most important thing in life is basically owning a house,” she said. “Owning a house is a really, really, really big deal for them.”

When Rina got some money together — which included offers of help from family — her dad insisted on taking her to open homes and auctions, hoping to find something simple, suitable and within her budget.

They couldn’t find anything. So Rina moved to Japan.

Australian Rina Laino among Japanese statues.
Rina tried it her dad’s way, but ultimately forged her own path.(Supplied: Rina Laino)

“For me personally, it’s like, yeah cool, I could have a house and I could have a mortgage. Or I can wait until that’s something that’s really necessary in my life,” she said.

“[Living overseas] was something I’ve wanted forever. Don’t get me wrong, I love Australia, but I think there’s just so much more out there.”

Rina has been in Tokyo for almost two years and has stayed on in her full-time job with a French company, despite the many pleas from her family to return to Australia during the coronavirus pandemic.

After all, Japan is her home now. You might say she’s one of the lucky few.

The dream is over

A few thousand kilometres away, Australian entrepreneur Michael Craig is rolling with the punches in Indonesia.

Michael Craig portrait
Michael Craig moved to Bali after running his business in Perth became too stressful.(Supplied: Dojo Bali)

Five years ago he founded a co-working space called Dojo Bali for people who could work remotely and wanted to have a base to operate and travel from.

The initial members were those who had started working in the 1990s and now had established careers.

Then something interesting happened: they began sharing their experiences on Instagram.

Suddenly, a wave of young creatives starting turning up, enticed by the idea of cheap beer, beachside massages and the freedom to work when and where they chose.

The age of members now ranges from 18 to 70, but the cohort that makes up by far the largest chunk? You guessed it: 25-35.

It also gave rise to a new term that evokes the kind of mentality they can wear with pride: digital nomad.

Members working at Dojo Bali co-working space in Canggu
Members work by the pool at Bali’s Dojo co-working space in Canggu.(ABC News: Nat Kassel)

“They don’t see themselves sitting at a desk and working for the man, so to speak,” Michael said.

“They’re sick of living with so many rules around them. Australia seems to have become like a nanny state.

“That’s what they tell me: ‘There’s too many rules, I can come here and it’s freedom’.”

Then the coronavirus came.

Wandering dream over

Dojo Bali has shut its doors, but that was the obvious move.

As the virus spread, whole countries put their people into isolation.

While the rules aren’t as strict in Australia as some other places, travel bans still mean no-one is getting out and very few are getting in. If Australians are coming back, it’s for the long haul.

For people like Grace Conrick, a 26-year-old nurse, this has brought long-held dreams to a halt.

Grace and her partner had been strategic in their plan to move to London next year to work and travel. It was a goal years in the making.

Grace Conrick on a boat smiling at the camera.
Grace plans on making the most of England’s proximity to mainland Europe.(Supplied: Grace Conrick)

“I wanted to do post-grad study, which I’m completing as we speak and due to finish at the end of the year,” she said.

“And obviously we want to have enough financial backing to enjoy our time over there and then come home [with some money] in our early 30s. We don’t really feel the need to settle down and buy a house just yet and I feel like why not do something different?”

Grace was drawn to the idea of seeing the kaleidoscopic cultures of mainland Europe as well as working in a different health system.

Now they’re waiting to see how the pandemic unfolds. But Grace says they might have to settle for an extended holiday, if that.

Wandering dream could be over

If you were looking for signs of a recalibration of priorities among young Australians, this might be it.

The more dire forecasts say flight prices could surge 27 per cent and house prices could drop as much as 30 per cent. Perhaps that swing would be enough to coax some millennials to settle here instead of leaving.

Or maybe the choice will be taken out of their hands.

“We want to be able to go and enjoy mainland Europe and enjoy the benefits of traveling,” Grace said.

“If we don’t have that freedom then the trip wouldn’t be as we planned at all.”

And here’s where we start to hint at the real fear: this isn’t a temporary hit to the wandering Australian dream, it’s the end as we know it.

We initially pinned our hopes on a COVID-19 vaccine being 12-18 months away, but increasingly experts are warning it may never come.

What does that future look like?

Most countries have already closed their borders and turned inwards to contain the spread. While in the US, President Donald Trump has also announced a suspension on immigration.

At this stage we’re led to believe these are radical but temporary restrictions to travel. Yet it’s hard not to see the marshalling of political forces who will use this crisis to further their isolationist cause.

In recent years we’ve seen far-right anti-immigration groups rise in Europe and call for tighter border controls.

This pandemic is like throwing petrol on that smouldering flame.

It is already happening on the extreme fringes in Australia, where white supremacists are reportedly “delighted” at the closure of borders and hope an ensuing societal collapse with create conditions to foster their uprising.

American travel writer Sam Youkilis also fears the crisis will deepen suspicions of foreigners and he has already witnessed early signs while in Morocco in March and news was filtering through of the outbreak in Italy.

“At a lot of the markets, where anyone would say they were from Italy there was a sort of sceptical resistance from Moroccans in their interactions,” he said. “Just a general scepticism that people didn’t have before of foreigners and tourists.”

Sam quickly returned to the US only to be forced into lockdown in New York City.

‘Fences are easier to build than dismantle’

It’s not alarmist to consider that the draconian restrictions we’ve accepted under extreme circumstances will never be fully wound back. That the modern age of free(ish) movement has come to an end.

History tells us this is exactly what can happen in times of global crisis.

As migration expert Speranta Dumitru writes in The Conversation, World War I saw the introduction of previously unheard-of restrictions on movement, including mandatory passports.

Those passports began in Europe and were only supposed to be a temporary measure to be wound back when things settled down.

A hand holds two Australian passports in Central Park, New York.
Can you imagine a world without passports?(ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)

It was the stated goal of many international conferences that they be abolished and there be a “complete return to pre-war conditions”, but somehow it just never seemed the right time to do it.

As one person argued to a gathering of international delegates in Geneva in 1926: “Conditions had changed so much since the war that everyone had to take into consideration a good many things they could formerly ignore.”

Now the people who argue against passports are the radicals.

As Dumitru writes: “Fences are easier to build than dismantle.”

We could be entering a new age

Still, there is another way of looking at this. One that is a more positive idea to end on.

And that is that this pandemic will open our eyes to the idea of working away from the office and recognising the freedom of remote living.Coronavirus questions answeredBreaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast podcast.Read more

“It’s the biggest experiment of remote work in the world,” says Michael from Dojo Bali.

“You’re having this massive experiment where all these people are going, ‘Hey, we’re working from home and hey, we can do this and it still works’.

That, combined with the wanderlust of millennials, could mean that rather than ending the era of movement, we are instead entering a new age. Even if there are new restrictions to deal with.

“They will push through that, because of the drive to go on that lifestyle,” Michael said.

“We’re already seeing our members want to come back to Bali. They’re all messaging, ‘When is Bali opening up? When is Bali opening up?'”

Who knows. But as long as millennials have the will, they may find a way.

So, dream on.