A number of locals have voiced their concern for the backpackers who found themselves camped at a rest stop outside Young for up to a month as they waited for the cherry harvest to begin.
A delay in the 2016 cherry harvest highlighted Young’s lack of camping facilities available to seasonable backpackers who arrived in October and started work in late November.
The conditions – which saw up to 30 backpackers at the rest stop at any one time – left locals appalled and questioning what action Hilltops Council will take to avoid a re-occurrence next season.
French backpacker, Hélène Hedges, said the experience was typical of a free camp, although it wore thin as they waited for work to begin.
“There were no showers or toilets so we were going to the swimming pool every few days for a shower,” she said. “We’d go to the Chinese Gardens every day to get water, and for toilets it was wildlife.”
With harvest now underway and most backpackers camping onsite, the focus turns to Hilltops Council to find a solution for 2017.
Hilltops Council Administrator, Wendy Tuckerman, said the issue has been brought to council’s attention who recognised this has been an issue over the years.
“The site where campers have been staying is a crown reserve owned by the State which is obviously not set up to cater for primitive camping,” she said.
“In recent years several options to cater for backpackers with low cost accommodation with amenities have been explored with no realistic alternative identified or delivered to date.”
Ms Tuckerman said there is an annul window of time where backpackers come to the area seeking fruit picking work and either secure employment and accommodation on farm or migrate out of the area to seek work elsewhere.
“From Council’s perspective we are obviously keen to work with local industry, relevant State and Federal agencies, particularly the NSW State Department of Crown Lands and the Department of Industry to identify achievable alternate solutions to what is currently occurring and ensure those solutions are delivered before next season,” Ms Tuckerman said.
While Ms Tuckerman has taken an active stance on the situation, it isn’t the first time the topic has come before council.
In 2015 Young’s Economical Development Committee raised the issue with Young Shire Council in attempt to find a solution for the 2016 season. Despite initial discussions with the Young Showground Trust and the Burrangong Picnic Race Club committee, the project was lost in the amalgamation and no outcome sought.
Former Young Shire Councillor and Young Economical Development Committee member, Brian Mullany, said different areas to place backpackers were discussed and none seemed suitable.
Mr Mullany said the former council discussed the idea, as well as general all-year camping, with Young Showground trustees who weren’t open to the idea due to the intense horse activity at the facility.
”It’s been in council for a number of years,” Mr Mullany said. “How to deal with it is a difficult one.”
“The area on Wombat Road is owned by the Crown – the council can’t do anything about that, they have no authority to deal with people out there.”
Mr Mullany said he loves the atmosphere backpackers bring to the town, although perhaps one of Young’s surrounding villages could offer a solution.
Alike Young, the Orange and Tumbarumba councils have recognised that backpackers provide a valuable service to the local fruit growing industry and have taken a role in providing basic camping accommodation for backpackers.
Orange City Council Communications Officer, Allan Reeder, said the initial response came after backpackers began camping in local reserves without facilities.
“The approach has changed over that period as the council has learnt from the experience, which has not been without its challenges,” Mr Reeder said.
This year a section of the council-owned caravan park will be used exclusively for camping by backpackers and a nightly fee of $15 per night is charged.
For this fee, a heavy-duty tent is provided as well as a camp stretcher and light for the tent. A simple, self-managed breakfast in a camp kitchen is also provided. A contractor-based site manager is also in place to provide a level of management and supervision overnight. This person’s role also includes maintaining contacts with local growers.
Over at Tumbarumba, the Snowy Valleys Council has taken action to accommodate workers come blueberry harvest.
Economic Development Officer, Georgie Macdougall, said council received over $1 million funding from Federal Government – boosted by $1 million of their own funding – to provide suitable accommodation for workers at the council-owned caravan park. Tumbarumba also offer free camping with council-funded amenities, camp kitchens and running water.
- This article first appeared on Young Witness