TRAVELLER'S GROWING CONCERNS: Elisa Arnould, Rayan Rousson, Arthur Gas, Matthieu Lemoine, Thibault Depont and Ambre Lecossois. Picture: Sam Turner
TRAVELLER'S GROWING CONCERNS: Elisa Arnould, Rayan Rousson, Arthur Gas, Matthieu Lemoine, Thibault Depont and Ambre Lecossois. Picture: Sam Turner

Backpackers making hard decisions ahead of picking season

BACKPACKERS are considering their future in the North Burnett, amid concerns about the closure of orchards due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The annual picking season will be in full flight throughout the next few months, with Gayndah and Mundubbera already brimming with travellers from across the globe.

To extend their stays on their working visa, 88 days must be worked within rural areas.

The growing concern over the spread of COVID-19 however has left many working travellers wondering if this season will be cancelled.

French picker Arthur Gas has even seen some travellers flying back to Europe, concerned for their loved ones.

French health authorities have reported 89 new deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, March 18, taking the death toll to 264.

"One girl has already left, she was worried about her sister, and now we don't know if we will have trouble with work here," Mr Gas said.

"We're only here for the farm work to extend our visit, and if the season were to be cancelled, we would have wasted time, and money coming here."

Mr Gas and his travelling companions are all French and have been in Australia for over five months.

The outbreak has already impacted their currency, and some of their mates in Melbourne.

"They're all having a hard time because they don't have a job anymore, since most of their contracts are casual in restaurants," Mr Gas said. 

"Their bosses have just stopped their hours completely."

Citing that hospitality and labouring jobs are their only avenue for work while in Australia, they're adopting a wait-and-see attitude to the current situation.

"We all have insurance to cover our hospital costs if we do somehow contract coronavirus, but if the farms close, then we don't know what we're going to do."

Cedric Dupont is another French labourer staying in Gayndah for the picking season, but he's not here by choice.

He had recently come back from Brisbane after dropping his friend off at the airport, where he was also meant to catch a similar flight.

French backpacker Cedric Dupont had his flight to France cancelled, due to it connecting through Germany. Picture: Sam Turner
French backpacker Cedric Dupont had his flight to France cancelled, due to it connecting through Germany. Picture: Sam Turner

Due to the border restrictions now in place in Germany, his connecting flight from Frankfurt to his home town of Marseilles has been cancelled.

"My friend, she was able to fly to Bangkok, and have her connecting flight straight to Paris," Mr Dupont said.

"But since my flight has to go through Germany, that's now been cancelled."

Mr Dupont had bought his ticket Monday, March 16, wanting to fly home to be with his family.

Now he's been left with trying to regather the costs of his one way ticket, and is now living in Gayndah until further notice.

"It's so stressful, just being stuck like this."

Gayndah's Banapan Citrus owner Billie Harris said her and several orchardists have been in contact to discuss the impact this virus is having on their farms, and their workers.

"We're currently putting things in place to protect ourselves, and our workers at the moment, but its changing day by day," Mrs Harris said.

"We're going to have to do something."

Banapan Citrus has had a group of backpackers labouring for several months, saying they'll still be heavily relying on them to help for the season.

"I can't see there being enough local people to fill the spaces that we'll need for this season."

The talks she has had with local associations have been about how they're going to treat this pandemic in relation to their individual farms, with the whole citrus industry.

When asked if this season could be cancelled, Mrs Harris responded with a simple answer.

"We all have fruit there to be picked, it's our livelihood, and we have to manage it the best way we can.

"It's all on those trees, so it's there to be picked."

     

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