The mother of a young woman murdered while backpacking in Queensland last year has heard dozens of horror stories from other backpackers participating in the Australian government’s 88-day farm work scheme.
The work is a requirement if backpackers want to extend their 417 visa by a year, and while many young people enjoy their time spent in rural Australia, the death of Mia Ayliffe-Chung in August last year has meant that her mother, Rosie Ayliffe, has heard horrifying tales while campaigning for reform of the system.
Australian Story spoke to four of the people who’d shared their stories with Ayliffe, including a Canadian backpacker who was sexually assaulted after agreeing to work on a grape farm in Mildura.
She had been looking for work for five weeks before she answered an ad for only female workers. When the man who owned the farm was driving her back to her hostel one night, he attacked her.
“I crossed my legs, had my arms covering me. He was reaching to undo his pants and that was when I just started punching and kicking as hard as I could.”
While he eventually gave up trying to assault her, she had to ride with him all the way back to where she was staying or risk being left in the middle of nowhere, alone.
Others say they’ve worked on farms where they weren’t allowed to go on toilet breaks, where they were monitored by drones, and where they’d be paid a pittance. There are stories of rampant sexual assault, exploitation by hostels, and terrifying machinery accidents. Some conditions have got so bad that the scheme has been compared to modern-day slavery.
Ayliffe is calling on the government to make changes to the system to ensure the safety of all backpackers who labour on Australian farms.
Image: Rodger Shagam/africanpix.com / Getty.