General News

16 February, 2024

Backpackers are back

THOUSANDS of European and Asian backpackers are being welcomed back to the region by local growers after a four-year Covid hiatus.

European backpackers Morgane Wajnglas, Laura Pedrono and Alena Gnos are doing their 88 days of farm work at Joe Moro’s mango farm in Biboohra.
European backpackers Morgane Wajnglas, Laura Pedrono and Alena Gnos are doing their 88 days of farm work at Joe Moro’s mango farm in Biboohra.

Travel restrictions between 2020 and 2022 saw a significant plummet in the availability of farm workers, with growers struggling to find pickers and packers, triggering the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme which allowed Pacific Islanders to fill the gap.

But FNQ Growers chair Joe Moro says backpackers are now flocking to the area in numbers exceeding pre-Covid statistics.

“I believe numbers are back to what they were pre-Covid, even more, but during Covid, no one was able to get here, only the ones who stayed and were able to get extensions on their visas,” he said. 

“So, numbers were very low at that time … now there is obviously an influx of working holiday visa applications from young, hardworking men and women from all over, particularly Europe.

“I think they add character to the region, and that is no different with the South Pacific Islanders as well. They bring different cultures, different ideas and different ways of doing things.

“Those who have working holiday visas tend to spend a lot of money locally and within Australia, while your South Pacific Islanders also spend money but mainly on groceries and other stuff.

“So having them all here is very important to the economy, and I think their different cultures help make Mareeba a more interesting place to be.”

Alena Gnos, from Switzerland, and Morgane Wajnglas and Laura Pedrono, from France, are currently working on Mr Moro’s mango farm in Biboohra. 

Ms Gnos said she wanted to do her 88 days in Mareeba after she saw the “300 sunny days” sign during her travels. 

“I was travelling up the east coast and I knew that I had to come back to Mareeba after I saw the sign saying ‘Mareeba – 300 sunny days’,” she said. 

“Later on, it was recommended to me by a friend to stay at the Riverside Caravan Park, and then I remembered that sign.”

Finding accommodation at the Riverside Caravan Park was the easiest thing for all three women, but Ms Wajnglas said finding work was the hardest part.

“I think it took me maybe two weeks to find work. I was going to multiple places and calling but nothing really worked,” she said. 

“Someone from the caravan park said that (Mr Moro’s farm) was here, and that is how I found a job.” 

For Ms Pedrono, finding work was “complicated”, but says she is grateful to be working in Mareeba and was lucky to find a social place to stay. 

“I was very lucky to find the caravan park and I like working on the farm a lot,” she said. 

“It gives me the impression that I am useful, unlike working in a bar or restaurant. Here I am useful.”

Mr Moro confirmed backpackers were having some issues finding farm work in the region due to a light mango season and recent severe weather events. 

He said many holidaymakers had turned to tourism and hospitality but struggled to get the hours they needed and overcome language barriers. 

Despite this, he said they were still flooding into the region, and would continue to arrive when the avocado season kicked off. 

“There was some disruption to work, but I think that will start evening out once we start getting the avocados going,” Mr Moro said. 

“They are all very keen to get their 88 days, and they are all working very hard, and I think that is why they are still attracted to these rural areas.”

So far, most backpackers entering the region are managing to find accommodation, with many staying in caravan parks or on the farms they work at. 

Despite this, Mr Moro encouraged growers to consider putting workers' accommodation on their properties to avoid overcrowding in houses and for neighbours to be more open-minded about having them next door. 

“You’ll find most people with working holiday visas are looking for cheap places and are bending the rules (and overcrowding in houses),” he said. 

“We encourage people to do the right thing, and many farmers have their own accommodation on farms to help with that.

“It’s a delicate topic of conversation, workers accommodation, but I hope the community will be open-minded and allow more farmers to build accommodation on their farms. 

“I know there are some concerns about large groups having a good time sometimes, but I think they will find farmers have strict rules with what they get up to.”


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