Our transition from the first hostel to The Summit Backpacker’s, Thulimbah, QLD
I am not going to talk much about The Summit Backpacker’s hostel in this post, I will save that for my next post which I am hoping to also get up tonight, this post is basically just an explanation about the bad situation we previously found ourselves in, a situation which I am sure some backpackers are able to relate to and a situation I want to finally lay to rest. Fortunately things got much better after we contacted Ben and Penny at The Summit Backpackers, but like I said, I’ll save that for the next post.
This is the train track which runs alongside The Summit Backpacker’s, the only train which used this track is a steam train which goes past once a month
It’s now the 7th of May and a lot has happened since I wrote my last post; the situation on S******’s Orchard had become too much and we knew we needed to leave as soon as we could – we needed money but we both decided that we couldn’t stick it out any longer. Becky found out about another backpacker hostel a few miles away called ‘The Summit Backpacker’s’ and decided to make an enquiry as to whether they had any space available for ourselves and two of our roommates – they informed us that some spaces would become available on Wednesday 26th April so we decided to go for it and reserve four spaces at the hostel. We told C and M at our current accommodation that we would be moving on and the following day we informed the deputy supervisor on the farm that it would be our last day. As if we needed any more reason to leave S******’s we got yet another, towards the end of the day we were all rounded up by D (farm supervisor) and he told the whole crew that too many apples had fallen to the ground and that people needed to take more care, and if it continued to happen then he would make us pick the rotten apples off the floor to prove a point, he referred to picking the brown, rotten apples off the floor as ‘nigger picking’.
Now, I understand that too many apples being dropped on the floor is unacceptable as it is essentially money rotting away on the floor, but D’s ‘nigger picking’ comment upset some people, myself included. I had previously thought about just moving on from the farm, forgetting that he threatened to break my arms, forgetting that he hit me on the arm but the ‘nigger picking’ comment seemed to piss me off more than the rest – I didn’t want to walk away from this place without doing anything about this vile excuse for a human. I had previously contacted Queensland Workplace Bullying Hotline and they had advised me to speak to the police but at the time I decided to leave it, however as time went on and I spoke to more people about the incident including locals and people I had met at the hostel they all suggested that speaking to the police would be a good idea and after we quit S******’s orchard we went down to the local harvest recruitment agency and after telling the staff there about our experience they also advised us to visit the police station.
I walked to the police station with Becky and our roommates, we spoke to a police officer about the situation at the farm, he asked for the full name of the supervisor and as soon as we told him the police officer knew exactly who he was. The police officer showed me a mugshot of our supervisor on his tablet and asked if it was the same person and it was. It turns out that the supervisor is currently on bail for assault – needless to say, we weren’t exactly shocked.
From day one in Australia I have been writing about our experiences in Queensland just as I do for everywhere I travel, so of course I have been writing about my experiences with our regional work, both good and bad. For the most part I had not had any issue with C and M who own the original hostel we were saying at other than the fact they either have no idea what D’s temperament is like or they prefer to take an out of sight out of mind approach to what goes on at the orchard. On the day we left the hostel we were still supposed to have on night left but C asked Becky and I if we would be happy to move to a motel for the night as they needed our beds, this would be at their expense which was very nice of them and it worked out better for us. On the day we left the hostel we attempted to bring up the situation on the farm to C at the hostel and M during the drive to the motel but on both instances the conversation was derailed almost immediately. Becky and I both seemed to come away with the same impression, which was that neither C nor M wanted to hear anything about D, this suggested to me that they are aware of how he is but would prefer not to hear about it.
After our experience on the farm I wanted to know if what I had experienced was an isolated incident, however there were a number of stories relating to the poor treatment of foreign workers on some of Australia’s farms; at the bottom of one of the articles was a request for readers who have experienced similar conditions working on Australia’s farms to contact the author, so I did…
In all honesty I didn’t even expect a response to my email, but a part of me was expecting the email to be picked up and maybe the journalist would include a few sentences from my experience in her next article – I wasn’t expecting what would happen next. I received an email from a journalist at news.au, requesting to speak to me over the phone, I didn’t respond to the initial email as I was waiting for a better opportunity when I would have more free time to speak over the phone. I received a second email saying that she had published the article and that she hoped I liked it, I clicked the link she had provided, I was gobsmacked, the whole article was based on my experience. Within the next couple of days I had people from the hostel telling me they had seen the story, Becky had missed calls from journalists and when I returned home I found that I had five message requests on Facebook from journalists asking for permission to write their own article about our situation, one newspaper wanted exclusivity and another wanted to know the name of the farm and the individual so as to name and shame those involved but I explicitly told them all that I just wanted to lay it all to rest and was not happy for any more articles to be published. I didn’t expect the tidal wave of attention that came my way after the original article was published, it even reached as far as the UK, I had friends posting the article on both mine and Becky’s Facebook pages asking if we were alright, as they days went by the level of attention we were receiving just seemed to be growing exponentially. After refusing to grant permission to publish an article to a ‘journalist’ from the shit-rag of a newspaper, The Daily Mail, I found the following day that my refusal had been ignored and the article had been published, not only that but pictures had been taken from my Facebook page of Becky and myself and used in the article – my full name had been used, I thought that this was not only a violation of my right to privacy but also a danger since I was only living mere minutes away from the person the article pertained to, the person who was currently on bail for assault and had previously threatened to break my arms. I confronted the person responsible for publishing the article, she acted oblivious to the fact I had previously told her not to publish the article and seemed confused as to why I was annoyed by what she had done, I requested that the article be removed from the newspaper website, she said that I would have to contact the editor if I wanted the article to be removed. Since failing to make any ground with the person responsible for publishing the article I contacted the editor, my email was referred to a member of the Daily Mail’s legal team, the person who contacted me said he would like to resolve the issue directly with me but they would very much like to keep the article on their site – just to preserve my anonymity I agreed but only on the conditions that they remove pictures of myself and my fiancée from their article, remove our full names and a few other details…I received no response and the article remains on their website to this day. In all honesty I had a bit of a breakdown following the publishing of the article, I couldn’t really do much about the first article since I had essentially asked for it although not expecting an outcome of this proportion, however, it was the article from the Daily Mail which had the worst effect on me, it was after this article that friends and acquaintances from back home started to contact Becky and myself, I didn’t want this story getting back to my family after purposely not telling them to prevent them from worrying. I spent the following week mostly in my room refreshing the article to see if it had been removed or edited in away that would preserve our anonymity but this was to no avail – it wasn’t long before this ordeal crept into my dreams, there wasn’t even any solitude when I slept, I woke up each day feeling exhausted.
In the original article, excerpts had been taken from my original blog post, to the reader these would be very attention grabbing words and sentences but to me they seemed pretty out of context, some of these excerpts focused on the hostel and the hostel owners, in my original post I had tried to portray them and their business in a good light yet with a few flaws, however it was only the flaws that were published in the article. As soon as I read the article I contacted the newspaper and asked them to edit the article, and to give the journalist at news.com.au the credit she deserves, she did just that, and she did it before any more negativity about them could be propagated, however, some damage was already done and I found out through the grape vine that the owners of the hostel were pretty pissed at me.
We had only technically worked 12 days at S******’s farm, but these were days that we had worked and were entitled to, so we decided to take a trip down to the hostel to ask them for our forms which we had previously passed to C to give to the farm prior to the publishing of the article (when we were on good terms). To avoid any awkwardness Becky and I decided to stay in the car and our other roommates went into the hostel to ask for all of our forms, they returned a few minutes later and said that M and C were pretty disappointed and said they just wished that Becky and I would have just talked to them about what was going on in the farm…we tried, they also told the guys that the farm had passed on the message that if we wanted to receive our days then we would have to personally visit the office and we would receive them after making a statement about what had happened. Our friend Paula had left the farm a week or so after we did, she made an official statement about the same supervisor after receiving similar mistreatment, and like us, she was also angered when the supervisor referred to picking the brown apples off the floor as ‘nigger picking’. I don’t know what the farm owners are like, maybe they were genuinely concerned about what had happened but we decided to play it safe, cut our losses and forget about getting our days signed off, for all we know the supervisor could have been there when we arrived and that’s a situation we all wanted to avoid.
While staying at The Summit Backpacker’s we looked for work but since it was coming to the end of the season we didn’t seem to be having much luck. Just as our money was starting to run low, Ben who owns the hostel with his wife Penny told us that he had a call from one of the farms saying that they needed a few people to work for one day picking bell peppers (capsicums), it wasn’t a full day but it was better than nothing and it almost paid for a full week of rent so we were really grateful. After phoning around a number of farms in the area we finally came into some luck, one of the supervisors on another orchard in the area contacted us and said they could take all of us on for the remainder of the picking season but they would like to see two of us working for a day before they gave us a contract. Julian and Yotam were keen to work the first day so they went along and did a good enough job for them to come back with five contracts for us to sign up and we would all be officially starting the following day. Would this be the start of the amazing adventure we were looking for? Find out in my next post…