Pickers at work on a Bowen district farm yesterday
Pickers at work on a Bowen district farm yesterday

International visitors abused as virus tensions build

DISRESPECTFUL behaviour towards international visitors has prompted a Bowen accommodation owner to call for the community to "give backpackers a break", driving home the message that they are essential to the survival of our town.

Harbourside Homestay owner Alan Bryson penned a letter to the Bowen Independent last week, asking the community to remember the important contribution backpackers make to Bowen.

Mr Bryson said he had experienced disrespectful behaviour first hand, with his wife copping racist abuse from a stranger, despite having lived in the community for years.

"She was very upset and I'm upset that people in Bowen would stoop to that level," he said.

Mr Bryson believed the attitude had emerged as tensions are running high during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Mr Bryson said the community needed to understand that the backpackers who were already in town were of no risk to the community, as they had already served their 14-day isolation and were adhering to rules.

Mr Bryson said he'd heard comments from many saying they'd witnessed irresponsible backpacker behaviour but he believed it was unfair to tarnish them all with the same brush.

"There are irresponsible ones but there are far more responsible people than irresponsible," he said.

Current rules state that to travel to Bowen people must have either a Queensland Government Entry Pass (non-resident) or an email from the Queensland Health Department confirming they have completed the 14-day self-isolation period.

"The ones that are here are under control, we're doing temperature checks and they have twice daily police checks," he said.

"They're on their toes all the time but they are doing the right thing."

With agriculture being one of the region's few remaining operational industries, Mr Bryson said he couldn't understand the mentality being shown by a community that relies so heavily on foreign workers.

"That's the mentality but it is not the backpackers here that are the concern," he said.

"The reality is Bowen needs backpackers to survive, the only thing Bowen has is its agricultural industry."

Many of the foreign workers in Bowen are currently unable to return to their own countries and have come to Australia for the opportunities it offers.

Mr Bryson said many of the workers came here to make and save money as opposed to the partying backpackers that many people stereotyped visitors as being.

"Some of the kids here are from Argentina and Chile they're engineers and doctors," he said.

"They come here on a working holiday visa because they make more money picking fruit than they do working in their professions back home.

"The issue is the share houses with some contractors bringing in large groups of people who are all living in the one house with ten other people. They can't be doing that."


The original R2E2 mango tree pictured in its row at the State Government's Bowen research station where it was developed
The original R2E2 mango tree pictured in its row at the State Government's Bowen research station where it was developed

Plans to quarantine backpackers in Bowen

THE government and growers are currently in discussions about the best way to process a potential influx of backpackers in the Bowen region in the coming weeks, with Mr Bryson raising concerns about how they would be quarantined.

Although Mr Bryson said the backpackers that were already here were not an issue, he believed the government and growing companies would be aiming to quarantine the new arrivals in the town, a scenario that we "don't have the facilities" for.

"The whole thing is up in the air now they want to put them straight into Bowen and quarantine them here but we just don't have the facilities on that larger scale," he said.

"If we bring them in and one person has it, we would have no growing season it would put the farmers, the crops, the whole season at risk.

"We don't want backpackers in the town until they have been quarantined."

Mr Bryson said it wasn't about palming the problem off to another community, but the government needed to consider that Bowen is a "growers' town" and the impact of the virus in Bowen would be devastating to the whole country, not just the residents.

"We're not trying to protect Bowen selfishly, we need to make sure we protect the farmers, the crops and the season for everybody," he said.

"This is a growers' town, if the pandemic hits here the whole season is dead, millions and millions of dollars of crops lost.

"Depending on the decision we make as a community in the next couple of weeks we will determine the outcome for Bowen for the year and next years."

Mr Bryson said if that scenario was to pan out the farmers could "lose everything" and the Australian population would face devastating impacts.

Mr Bryson said the next two to four weeks would be when the picking season really begins, which means the decisions made in the coming weeks would determine the outcome for Bowen's crop seasons now and into the future.

With picking set to begin in just two weeks, Mr Bryson said workers who were hoping to come into the town should already be in quarantine if they expected to be able to go to work as the season begins.

Mr Bryson said the small number of backpackers currently in Bowen had already been quarantined and were sitting and waiting for the season to kick off, making it the ideal scenario.

"They're sitting waiting, at least they are here ready for the picking as soon as it starts," he said.

Bowen farmers are facing unprecendented chgallenges and are at risk of losing crops if there are no workers to pick them.
Bowen farmers are facing unprecendented chgallenges and are at risk of losing crops if there are no workers to pick them.

Backpackers already in Queensland still at risk of carrying the virus

WITH cases of COVID-19 still arising in areas throughout Queensland, backpackers who had travelled from other areas of the state would still be subjected to quarantine, with Mr Bryson saying he was concerned about taking on travellers.

Travel restrictions currently ban people from travelling except for "essential" purposes, one of which is for work, although backpackers travelling to Bowen face an unusual situation because they may not be technically employed anywhere.

Mr Bryson said people travelling to Bowen for the picking season had been unable to get through even if they had only been within Queensland.

"The police are sending people back from Cairns on the highway because technically there is no work here yet," he said.

"We're between a rock and a hard place."

Mr Bryson said it was a tough decision but he did not want to take any backpackers who had been travelling anywhere including those who may have been travelling around Queensland.

"I don't want to take people who have just been travelling around because we just don't know exactly where they've been," he said.

"We are just trying to do the right thing."

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