Backpackers ask for a little more compassion

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
German nationals Levi Karstensen and Anouk Janke are stranded in the South West after the regional border lockdown.
Camera IconGerman nationals Levi Karstensen and Anouk Janke are stranded in the South West after the regional border lockdown. Credit: Jackson Lavell-Lee

Some of the region’s remaining backpackers have appealed to residents for a little more sympathy, with many visitors struggling, stranded, and flat-broke.

The Times fielded numerous reports this week of backpackers — as well as Australian travellers — stranded by COVID-19 receiving abuse and criticism from residents.

Meanwhile, backpackers flocked to social media sites in search of housing and casual work because not all were able to head home.

Several backpackers also told the Times they would remain on the move because they did not receive any government support and needed income to meet basic costs. Times reports last week that Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Ian Earl had asked all non-residents to pack up and leave were also upsetting for those who had come to love the region, travellers said.

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“I find it really unfair, the way we are treated by the authorities,” former vineyard worker Lara Monteiro said.

“They use us to make s...ty jobs with low pay and when they don’t need us anymore and there is trouble, they want to kick us out.”

Ms Monteiro said most residents were very kind and supportive, but some had hurled abuse at anyone in a camper van.

Backpackers were setting up wherever they could, but shared kitchens and bathrooms at caravan parks housing travellers added to hygiene risks, she said.

“No money means hard access to accommodation, so hard access to water and showers, hard to cook also, and no proper place where we can quarantine ourselves,” she said.

“Basically, because of this, the backpackers (are) gonna be the more impacted by coronavirus, and I’m pretty sure that some people (will) take us as the guilty ones if (the virus comes to) town.”

Cr Earl acknowledged backpackers were unfairly criticised, but asking them to leave was for their own good. “I suspect that they probably would (be receiving criticism) because we do have a few average people out there taking the law into their own hands,” he said.

“Once it all kicks off, if people can’t get away, we will try to help them.” Cr Earl said anywhere up to 500 backpackers could still be in the region, but a rescue flight by the French Government was a lifeline to some — and he urged them to grab the chance to leave.

“I’m getting a bit of flak for telling the backpackers they need to go,” he said.

“It’s for their own good and their own health and for the community.”

He said local services would not cope if the pandemic took hold in the Capes.

Travellers in Yallingup also said they wanted to do the right thing and isolate, but the lack of facilities made it nearly impossible.

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