Mildura, a backpacker’s 88 days nightmareAugust 31st, 2018 | | 88 days
SCAMS, withheld pay and atrocious working and living conditions have earned one Aussie city a notorious reputation among backpackers looking to extend their visas through farm work.
The agricultural hub of Mildura in Victoria is a popular place for young, overseas tourists to flock in a bid to complete their mandatory 88 days of labour if they want a second year in Australia.
However, a young filmmaker – who was subject to bizarre sexual taunts during her own stint as a farm worker in another part of Australia – said social media and travel blogs were filled with backpacker horror stories from their time in and around the city.
“It had become a bit notorious within the (backpacker) community,” British filmmaker Katherine Stoner told news.com.au.
“If a backpacker said they were going to work in Mildura there would often be another backpacker who had heard a horror story or had one themselves.
“The big issues were usually of not getting paid, like at all, for weeks worth of work. There were also stories of hostels being in disgusting conditions, issues with drugs and such.
“I once heard a story of a hostel throwing backpackers out in the middle of the night because of an argument or something. That obviously would put the backpackers in a dangerous situation.”
The town’s reputation had become so infamous, Ms Stoner decided she would visit the city – for the first time – as part of a soon-to-be-released investigative documentary, 88 Days which looks broadly at the issue of backpacker exploitation in Australia.
“There’s also the issue of hostel owners misleading backpackers, encouraging them to come to Mildura saying they have work, then the backpackers come and there’s no work,” she said. “They spend all their money on rent and are waiting around for work. They then can’t leave because they’ve spent all their money on rent. It becomes a situation backpackers can’t get out of.”
CLEANING UP ITS ACT
However, from her visit, Ms Stoner said some of the most notorious contractors appeared to have moved away and it looked as if the city was making steps to improve its reputation.
“We met with one farmer in Mildura who was treating his backpackers great,” she said. “I think there are dodgy hostels all over the country, and Mildura obviously had a bit of a bad run with them. The backpackers we spoke to seemed to be content enough, although we still did hear a couple of issues in Mildura.”
Her team met with a local councillor Glen Milne who said Mildura Rural City Council was working to clean up the town’s image among the backpacking community.
However, he said in the documentary the council did not have enough power to fight the bad hostels, since they have to give notice to a hostel before they give an inspection, the hostel owners usually clean up and by the time of the inspection everything’s in order again.
Robert Mansell, director of Coligan’s Mansell Farms, allowed the crew to film his business in action and let employees speak with the filmmakers.
He had concerns the film would portray Mildura as a hotbed of seediness – which would scare off backpackers. However, Ms Stoner said it was clear from her time there that wasn’t the case at his farm – as the backpackers appeared to be happy and enjoying their stay.
Mr Mansell told a local newspaper, the Sunraysia Daily there were some local “crooks” hiring backpackers, however Cr Milne said a lot of underhanded operators had been weeded out in the past four years.
“I’m not hearing as many reports as I was three to four years ago, but that’s not to say there aren’t any,” Cr Milne told the newspaper.
News.com.au has contacted several of the city’s councillors and the chamber of commerce, however they have not responded to requests for comment.
‘THE WORST HOSTELS I’VE EVER SEEN’
In 88 Days, which is due to be released in the next couple of months, Ms Stoner travels across Australia and uncovers some disturbingly shocking living and working conditions.
“In South Australia we saw one of the worst hostels I’ve ever seen,” she said. “There was no running water, they showered in dirty lake water and drank rain water. There was a rat infestation, and no locks on doors. I couldn’t believe backpackers were staying there.”
She also said the majority of women she spoke to had some experienced level of sexual harassment during their time on Aussie farms.
“There are definitely great farms and hostels out there, there’s just far too many that are exploiting backpackers,” Ms Stoner said.
“I don’t think the situation is getting any better. There is definitely a lot more awareness of the issue, and we even met backpackers who are standing up and speaking out more and more. But on the farms and in the hostels themselves, I get the impression none of them want to change.”
Ms Stoner’s documentary is not even finished yet, but she has still received a barrage of abusive messages from disgruntled Aussies after talking to news.com.au about her experiences last year.
However, Ms Stoner said she also received a lot of positive messages and she hasn’t been put her off making her film by the negative messages. “If anything they’ve made me more determined,” she said.
The film 88 days is currently in post production.
Source: Gladstone Observer
Sourced by Mike Barrow