On the 5th of October 2014, I arrived in Mildura with some friends from the snow fields, only to find ourselves conned out of $450 each, and exposed to the exploitative state of second year visa work for travelers in Australia.
At the end of the 2014 snow season, two of my traveling friends from Ireland had decided it was time to do their 88 days of regional work in order to qualify for their second year visa. The plan was to go to Mildura, an agricultural hub in Australia and an oasis on the Murray River. It is a small and beautiful town completely surrounded by agricultural land and vinyards producing produce all year round. Myself and another Australian friend from the snow fields had decided, what the hell, we will go too. It will be an experience and potentially an opportunity to save some money.
We had pre-organized a working house specifically set up for second year visa farm work. The deal was that rent was $150/week with 2 weeks rent due up front and a bond of $150 (a total of $450). The organization would then have work available for us and would come by each morning to pick up those that wanted it, and that every day spent in the house would count towards the 88 days needed for the visa. The deal was initially found online and was in-line with all other offers available and so nothing ever seemed suspicious. Myself and my friend Stuart (hairy Irish dude) had both had verbal contact with fluent English speakers from the organization about the house and work.
Almost immediately after arriving in Mildura we met up with a British girl who asked us to follow her to the house. So far all good. We arrive at the house with the British girl and another large man who is clearly the boss as he is calling the shots and telling us about the deal. The man was rather rude, but not such that any of us had any alarm bells ringing. Yet.
We were each handed a piece of paperwork outlining costs and work details. We handed over our $450 each and instantly the man became significantly more vulgar. He was directly and openly sexually abusing the women around him and behaving in a psychopathic manner. Like a man without empathy with a god complex, and shortly after, he was gone.
We settled in. We each had a reasonable bed and a nice enough room. Soon we began to chat with the people in the house. Very quickly I discovered that there appeared to be a huge number of people around, which was strange given we each had our own bed and there simply didn’t seem to be enough space. It was soon revealed that there was something like 15 people sleeping in a renovated garage with bunk beds.
Upon chatting to a few house mates we also quickly discovered that work was very sparse. Most people were only working once or twice a week for only $20/day. A lucky few got $50, and it was back breaking work.
At this point it was obvious to me and the other Aussie that it was a waste of time for us to be there. The cost of accommodation was far more than we could possibly earn for insanely physical work. The irish couple had a slightly different situation though. If they stayed and slogged it out for 3 months they would get there visas. However it quickly became obvious that they would run out of money in the process.
2 days later the man returned. We were loudly and violently kicked out. I called the cops. They turned up and stated that they had no power in the situation.
This whole situation was remarkable for 4 main reasons.
1. The British girl we were dealing with was knowingly and repetitively conning fellow travellers in to a situation that would most often find them broke and without their visas. Serious shame on that filthy lady;
2. Not one person spoke up about the situation they were in before we found ourselves in it to. More shame;
3. The man had obviously set everything up to get the quickest possible turn over of vulnerable tourists as possible just to line his pockets; and
4. The cops, fully and previously aware, could do nothing.
We encountered many travelers in this house that were desperate and stuck. I vividly recall conversations with a Brazilian girl in tears and terrified as the man had taken everything she had and was constantly advancing her sexually. She had no where to go and no money to get there with.
Luckily for us, we cut our losses and moved on. For others, I don’t know. I imagine that Mildura has seen a lot of homeless and hungry backpackers over the last years, as whilst in the house we discovered that this was not a new operation. The man had been exploiting vulnerable tourists for years. We found that 9 news had even done a report on him.
I hope the loop holes that this man operates in are closed. I hope he is thrown in a cell and left without food. Preferably in a foreign country with no hope of communication.
Unfortunately, whilst meeting many people during the remainder of my experience that had been conned by exactly the same man, I also met countless people who were being exploited and conned in other ways. Since leaving Mildura I have only continued to hear horror stories from all over the country. We may think we live in an amazing and fair country, but if we could see it through the eyes of a backpacker that just wants to stay for a second year, that opinion would change. Its disgusting.
My advice to anyone seeking their second year visa in Australia is to do it early. If you find a bad deal at least you have the option to keep looking. Don’t wait. There is a very good chance you will get stuck.