October 12, 2014

My experience in Mildura didn’t go as planned. A friend warned me that it was a scam and that there was no work there but, after being assured by a work agency that I will have work on my arrival, I decided to ignore the advice of my friend.

When I was in Sydney, several people told me to go on a website called “2nd Year Visa Jobs”. This is a website where you can find adverts for work on farms that allow you to accumulate your 88 days required to get a second Working Holiday Visa for a year. I visited this website and for $19 you have access to jobs that you can apply to and will be put in touch with a member of the team that will place you in the job you have selected. I paid the $19 and was contacted by a young woman named Rachel. The advert I was interested in was for Orange picking. She put me in touch with the owner of a hostel, “Oasis Backpacker”, which was linked to the farm I was supposed to work at. After talking to the owner, Eva, on the phone, I left Sydney to go to Mildura (the city where the job was located) a few days later.

Once in Mildura, this is where things started to go wrong … The first backpackers I met told me that there had been no work for two weeks, yet in the ad, it was said they were looking for two people as soon as possible. After asking the owner of the hostel, I was told that it’s quiet at the moment but in two weeks’ time “the work should come.”

It’s at this moment that I was being informed about the “Business” – that is, the work on the farms for backpackers in Mildura. Farmers have a kind of contract with hostels. If you want to be assured of a position at a farm that guarantees you a second year Working Holiday Visa, you must stay in these hostels and whenever there is work, they give it to you. You get up in the morning like you are going to a job centre, but it’s a first come, first served basis and there isn’t work for everyone. I was paying $160 rent for a week at the hostel and if I found work on a farm, I had to pay between $7 and $10 a day for transportation because they pick you up or let you borrow a van so you can get the farm. It works for most of the backpackers but not for all of them. I am one of those for whom it had become a nightmare.

I had had no money since I was in Sydney and I put my last savings into the trip to Mildura. Finding no work on farms, I had been told that there was a restaurant called “Rendez-Vous Restaurant” which often hires backpackers. I decided to go and meet the boss, Simon. We are the same age and he seemed friendly and willing to hire me as a waitress. I had a trial for the following Friday. A little problem: I had to buy black clothes because that’s the colour that waitresses wear. I have an authorized bank overdraft so I used it for this purpose. The trial went well, so I expected to have my Sunday schedule for the coming week. On Monday morning, I hadn’t received my schedule so I decided to go to the restaurant and see my boss. He told me that it was quiet at the moment and they do not need me right now. I burst into tears in front of him because I no longer had money and it was impossible for me to pay another week at the hostel. He told me that one of his best friends owns a hostel and the rent is $90 a week, and he told me that he was ready to pay the first week for me if I really wasn’t able to do it and that he would give me hours of work this week at his restaurant.

Two days later, I moved into my new hostel and I was working at the restaurant but fate continued to take it out on me. The boss’s wife said that my accent and my understanding of English was not good enough to be a waitress and rightly so. She proposed me to work from time to time to polish the cutlery and do some cleaning. This was unfortunately not enough for me to pay the rent and buy food. She then gave me the contact of a friend of hers who is a farmer and may have some work for me. I contacted him straight away and I got an appointment with him at his farm to show me the work to begin the following day. The next day he told me that the ground was too wet to work (it had rained for two days) and he preferred that I start on Monday. Sunday night, I sent him a message to check if it was still on for the next morning but no response from him … Monday morning I sent another message but still no response from him … to date, I still do not know what happened … Everything looked normal and he seemed serious and honest. Then I was taught how things work here in Mildura. If you have your own home, your own car and you are independent, farmers are not interested in you. They do not need you. You must pay the full price by staying in hostels that have a contract with them. You can be the best worker, but if you do not play the game, the farmers will not consider you. I have seen several people around me who have experienced the same kind of misfortune.

The result is, I had no money left and I was about to become homeless; I actually looked for a “safe” street I could sleep in for the next week. Fortunately for me, I met an Australian boy during my first weeks in Perth. He became my friend despite the fact that he went to live in Texas (USA) a few days after I met him. I’ve always kept in touch with him. Upon learning my situation, he offered to help me. He contacted one of his best friends in Portland (his hometown) and asked him if he could accommodate me. He also warned his family who also lives in this city and, in a few days, I found myself on a coach to Portland (a small town on the coast of the state of Victoria and a few hours from Melbourne). I could never thank him enough. He saved my life in many ways and he’s probably not aware of it!

Mildura is a business that exploits backpackers because even if you have the chance to work, you are poorly paid, and if you do not play the game, it’s over for you. I hope those who read this and who will live or are living the same adventure as me here in Australia will not ignore this warning like I did. Avoid Mildura if you can!

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