In light of all the recent scam stories coming out from Mildura, one of our members, who will be named “Mary” wrote the following piece about her time at the infamous Dons accommodation.
In June 2014 my boyfriend and I travelled to Australia from England to start our one year working holiday. We staying in Brisbane for two weeks, looking for any farm work available as we wanted to complete our regional work early. As it was the winter it was hard to find any work going, however we came across an advert on gumtree for ‘Citrus Picking’ in Mildura. On the ad it stated that we would be picking citrus fruits-oranges. We contacted the number on the ad, and talked to one girl, who we assumed was the receptionist or had some relation to the farm. She had told us that there was accommodation for couples on the farm and that the pay was approx $22/hr. We actually had to leave our hostel that day as all the rooms had been booked up. So given all these factors it ticked all the boxes and so we booked our flights, paying $800.
Arriving in Mildura
We had sent our flight details to the girl on the phone so they knew what time to pick us up and they assured us they’d be there. We arrived in Mildura at 11:25am yet never got picked up until 1:30pm.
It was the contractor, Don, who picked us up. Before he even drove us to our backpacker accommodation, we had to sign a form saying that the money we pay the contractor was for a “job search” and not for rent. He drove us straight to a cash machine, where we had to withdraw $900 to pay upfront. This was actually for two weeks rent each, plus a bond.
He then drove us straight to our accommodation which, to our surprise, was a house with about 30 people living there (4 bedrooms). After having a strict talk from the ‘head of house’ (who had been there for four weeks) about the rules of the house and respecting Don (otherwise he would kick us out without question or delay-which he has done many times before), we then got shown to our room….the garage, with 6 bunk beds in it and no heating. At this point I was feeling very uncomfortable, unwelcome and very homesick.
We got told to go and buy some food for the week and some clothes/shoes suitable for the job. This rinsed us of all of our money. We had nothing left.
“The Working Week Begins”
We started work the next day at 7am, it was freezing and after a very cold night, we weren’t feeling ready at all. We turned up to a farm full of rows of dead vines, no fruit. We were vine pulling. We could only afford thin gloves and we spent the whole day until 6pm, pulling old vine branches off the wires. It was extremely hard work, time consuming, getting whipped all over our bodies and across our faces every two minutes from the vines. We had to count how many vine trees we had pulled by the time we got picked up and it got written down. We were then told we got paid about 15c a vine. In a full day we earned max of $30 each a day. “Rent” was $150 each a week. If we worked 7 days a week we’d earn max $210 each, leaving us with $60 a week for living essentials.
We got back to the house to share one kitchen with everyone and two showers (even though we were told we were only allowed to use one). Then to bed in the freezing garage, which was only accessible from outside, and back up at 6:30am with swollen and very sore hands.
We found out after a couple of days, that the girl on the phone, was just another worker, one of us, who had only been there for two weeks previous to us, who got paid $20 per person she signed up, so obviously she sold the fruit picking job well.
Backpacker Job Birthday Blues
On the third day we had there, it was my birthday. I don’t think I have ever been so down waking up on my birthday. When my boyfriend saw how upset I was, we both decided we had had enough and we had to get out. We had been talking to another couple in the house who had been working there for two weeks and they were still waiting to be paid. If this was the case for us, we wouldn’t be able to afford food never mind rent. We were relying on the pitiful pay to pay for everything. We couldn’t afford anything. It was slave labour. We had also been told that we had to give two weeks notice for leaving to get our bond or any money back. There was no way out of it really.
I called my mum, who lives in England and told her everything, she was so disgusted by it all and paid us to head back to the City. We stayed up that night and packed all our stuff away and booked two buses and a train to get back to Melbourne. We snuck out of the house at 3am and got the transport back to the City and paid for one night in a hostel.
Since then, we have slowly been building our money back up to afford what we came here to do, experience Australia. In reality we will only be able to afford three weeks travelling the country before heading back. And it is because of this we now don’t have time to complete our regional work.
We haven’t liked talking about it and just put it behind us but if we can prevent any of this happening to other travellers that would be great.
Have you been scammed?
If you have been scammed you should report the crime to your local police office and also get in contact with Fair Work Australia. You should also make other people aware of the situation by posting the information in our fruit picking scam forum.
If you think you are being treated unfairly or your operator is running illegal accomoation or work conditions please don’t hesitate to contact the fair work ombudsman. You can also contact us with your situation so we can post on our Facebook page or newsletter to see if others are affected.