MISTREATED: Backpackers Aoife Loftus, Grainne Murray and Jack Thompson were treated badly and chose to move hostels as a result. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail
MISTREATED: Backpackers Aoife Loftus, Grainne Murray and Jack Thompson were treated badly and chose to move hostels as a result. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail Max Fleet BUNBAC

Backpackers backing away

WHEN two Irish backpackers and their English travel companion told their friends they were headed to Bundaberg, everyone told them not to go.

But the trio, who posted their movements on Facebook, said it was too late to turn back as they were already on a bus from Cairns to Bundaberg.

English backpacker Jack Thompson has been in Australia for 14 months and came to Bundaberg to complete farm work to qualify for a second year visa.

But after living in "unhygienic" conditions and never being paid for farm work, he now understands the warnings.

Mr Thompson described his stay at North Bundaberg Backpackers as "the all time low of hostels".

"It wasn't clean, it was unhygienic, it wasn't a good place to be," Mr Thompson said.

"It was too cold to sleep; you were just given a cover to put over the bed and a pillow."

Determined to complete their farm work, the trio woke the next day and headed out to pick cherry tomatoes - work organised through their accommodation.

At the farm, the backpackers were told they would earn $4 per bucket and be paid at a later date.

Soon realising the pay wasn't even going to cover their accommodation, Mr Thompson said they decided to find another place to stay.

They had paid for one week at the hostel, but stayed just three nights.

But the $150 they each paid for one week accommodation and additional $20 key deposits wouldn't be seen.

Mr Thompson said when they checked out and returned their keys they were told no money would be returned.

North Bundaberg Backpackers owner Steve Greenwood said he was "disappointed they didn't have a good time".

"Their deposits should have been returned to them," he said.

Mr Greenwood said the backpackers were told the tomato picking was "a terrible job" before they started the work.

"Contact picking rates, you all know how bad they area," he said.

"But even though the farm's not fantastic, it gets them straight onto their visa work."

The trio are now staying at Big Foot Backpackers and owner Vince Brockfield said it was experiences like this that gave Bundaberg a bad name.

"Bundaberg has a filthy name, people don't come here and this place relies on backpackers to get the crops off," he said.

A Fair Work Ombudsman inspector visited Bundaberg properties and farms in June this year.

"We have identified some potentially-concerning issues which will require follow-up lines of inquiry," A Fair Work Ombudsman spokesman said.



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