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Kindness pandemic spreads in Manjimup, WA, to help backpackers during COVID-19

October 28th, 2020 | | backpacker

Imagine backpacking on the other side of the world when a global pandemic is declared.

Key points:

  • A small community in WA’s south west actively welcomed backpackers during COVID-19 while others turned them away
  • Locals donated cash, clothes and food to support young travellers who found themselves stranded at the height of the crisis
  • Thousands of workers are needed to pick and pack produce from the region over the upcoming summer months and it’s unclear how many remain in the state

The country you are visiting wants you to leave urgently, borders are closing, case numbers are rising, and uncertainty is spreading.

But then a small community throws a lifeline, welcoming you with open arms, offering food, clothes and a warm bed as the situation changes rapidly.

That’s exactly what happened at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak as the small community of Manjimup, three hours’ drive south of Perth, made sure young travellers were looked after.

Manjimup community leaders knew they had to act to keep itinerant workers in the state, which had become a self-declared ‘island within an island’.

Closeup of Bravo Apples in Manjimup June 2020.
Manjimup is a horticultural hub, where more than 50 lines of fresh produce are grown to service domestic and international markets. (ABC Landline: Jessica Hayes)

‘They told us to come’

While some communities in WA’s south west turned desperate young visitors away, amid fears of an unmanageable outbreak in towns with ill-equipped hospitals, Manjimup proactively invited them into their town.

“When I heard some communities told backpackers to leave, I was upset about it,” Belgian national Annelies Coppieters said.

“I was afraid at first that would happen here but, in Manjimup, they told us to come. We’d have free accommodation when we work … and it made me feel more comfortable to be here.

“We didn’t want to be at home because it was really bad there.”

Backpacker Annelies Coppieters
Belgian backpacker Annelies Coppieters says she feels comfortable at Manjimup in WA. (ABC South West Victoria: Anthony Pancia)

Locals give the shirts off their backs

Manjimup Shire community services director Gail Ipsen Cutts said the backpackers were part of their community.

“They were the sons and daughters of people in Europe and other countries that were suffering and we needed to support them,” Ms Cutts said.

“You have that moment where you stop and say: ‘What if that was my child, or if it was me, would I want to be looked after, would I want to know my child was looked after if they were there?

“The community took that on board, and they were absolutely phenomenal.”

Manjimup Shire community services director in Manjimup, September 2020.
Manjimup Shire community services director Gail Ipsen Cutts says backpackers have long been part of the town’s fabric. (ABC Landline: Jessica Hayes)

Locals donated cash and warm clothes, food hampers, and even offered room in their homes to ensure backpackers were not literally left out in the cold.

“If they needed somewhere to stay, they said ‘You can stay with us’, if they have a job, if they don’t have a job, we’ll make sure you’re housed,” Manjimup Shire Councillor, Jayde Darin said.

“This is a home for them as well, but we need them, and we want to be a community that makes them feel as though they aren’t going to be left behind and we didn’t want people camping out in the bush.”

Backpacker labour ‘critical’

The Manjimup region is the state’s major horticultural food bowl, producing a vast range of food from avocados, to broccoli, and wine.

Manjimup Shire councillor Jayde Darin outside the council office September 2020.
Manjimup Shire councillor Jayde Darin says farmers and businesses wanted to ensure young travellers were not left out in the cold at the height of the pandemic.(ABC Landline: Jessica Hayes)

Councillor Darin said backpackers were a critical part of the economy.

“We need them, we are coming into a very busy season with fruit picking and avocados and without them how do our industries survive because there’s simply not the people to do the amount of seasonal work that’s required,” she said.

Southern Forest Food Council board member Mitchell East said backpacker labour was crucial to local producers.

“Backpackers are multi-skilled and come with a whole range of experience and knowledge,” he said.

“The beauty of it is we growers get to experience their culture as well … it opens your eyes to the rest of the world.” 

‘Sense of community’

Backpackers like 26-year-old British national Yasmin Gooch appreciated Manjimup’s generosity.

“There was just that sense of community,” Ms Gooch said.

“I loved Manjimup before COVID-19, and then the fact that they have been so supportive afterward just goes to show there are people out there who will look after you.”

ED: Finally a good news story and some compassion x

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow