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Looking after backpackers

05 Feb 2020

Looking after backpackers Image

There are many pairs of eyes down at the backpackers’ hostel on City Rd, most facing distant horizons as young travellers on working visas head off for rural adventures.

Juan Hairabedian is feeling pleased with himself. He’s just landed a job on a chicken farm in New South Wales.

Mariona Gonzaliz is off to Tasmania on her second visit to Australia. Last time she packed tomatoes in Queensland.

Teresa Amler and Taylah Bush are waiting for an Uber to take them to a café after staying for two days to catch a Bastille concert.

“They’re time poor,” Sue Snelling said as she takes a break from her duties at Southbank’s iconic hostel, Urban Central, to philosophise about the modern backpacker.

Gone are the days when you find bodies lounging around the corridors at all hours of the day. By 9.30am most have had breakfast and are off on their duties.

“They’re always in a rush, brushing past you to get to a phone,” Sue said.

Most are looking for rural work through recruitment labour agencies.

Juan thought he had a job on an almond farm. “The pay rate was great,” he said. Instead they gave him another role, not quite as good, to assemble a chicken farm in Temora.

As the cleaner at Urban Central, Sue is not that fussed about backpacker destinations. Her pair of eyes is focussed on the smaller picture - the mess left behind.

It’s Thursday morning and she’s sweeping the footpath after the regular happy hour sessions at the bar.

“I do the public area cleaning,” she said. That includes the kitchen after baked beans have been heated and peanut butter toast created.

“Most wash up but I put the plates through a sterilising process anyway.”

One traveller came to her for assistance with a pan. “I showed him how you put soap in it and wait 15 minutes. ‘It’s magic’, I said. He thought he had to throw out the pan.”

She said many of the travellers had never left home before. “They have no idea how to cook rice. They burn it regularly.”

The hostel used to provide free breakfast but now they provide rice and pasta so at least the travellers have something to eat.

“I learn from them,” Sue said. “They’re healthy eaters. They’re good kids. They’re actually really caring. If anyone needs salt and pepper they share.”

She laughs and admits they also know all the short cuts and tricks.

“One guy said ‘my son took off and went to Brisbane. I’m not paying $500 for an airfare.’ ‘Try Sky Scanner’, they said. It compares all the prices of flights.” •

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