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Backpackers fear they’re risking safety for visas

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

When the voice of Sonia’s* GPS said she had reached her destination, the young backpacker was puzzled by the kilometres of vacant fields framing the roadway around her.


When the voice of Sonia's* GPS said she had reached her destination, the young backpacker was puzzled by the kilometres of vacant fields framing the roadway around her.

The 21-year-old had been behind the wheel of her car for more than 10 hours- driving towards an address she believed was her new boss's farm in regional Australia. It wasn't.

Sonia had travelled the hundreds of kilometres alone in the summer months of last year after a man responded to her work ad on online marketplace, Gumtree, claiming he had work on a horse farm.

She had reluctantly accepted his offer as she was desperate to secure her 88 days to extend her working holiday visa so she could remain in Australia and travel with her friends.

Under Australian law, Working Holiday Visa holders can be eligible for a second-year extension if they complete 88 days paid seasonal work.

"He seemed nice," Sonia told 9News of her phone calls with her new boss before arriving at the property.

Backpackers fear safety at risk over claims predators scouring seasonal job ads.

"It was as soon as I got there, it was like 'this is the real me'… He said I was a bit too young for him and he liked people 24 and over. He put his hand on my leg once but that was it. It was quite far up my leg."

The man denied all claims when contacted by 9News.

9News has spoken with seven other female tourists who claim to have experienced sexual harassment and fears for their safety while trying to meet the requirements of their Australian visas.

The women, who shared their experiences on the condition of anonymity over fears for their visas, claim they were all preyed on through ads on Gumtree.

"After all the horror stories of females on working holiday visas going missing or raped or worse I would say that yes, there are predators lurking on gumtree and in society in general," Nicole* said.

"I would not be exaggerating to say that I'm afraid of Australian men. I've actually been drugged by Australian men… I think they target foreign women because we don't have a network of family or friends to protect us or in some cases to even know where we are or how we're doing.

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The federal government has a list of 70 approved employers under the Seasonal Workers Programme.

"Maybe it's not just Australia though as there was that horrible case in New Zealand recently too."

Nicole made specific reference to Belgian backpacker Davine who was kidnapped and held captive in South Australian pig shed and British backpacker Grace Millane.

Twenty-four-year-old Davine arrived in Australia in late 2016 and had hoped to extend her stay by another year by working 88 days in the bush. Instead, she was kidnapped and held captive in shackles in a filthy pig shed in South Australia.

Grace Millane died in New Zealand after being strangled by a man she met on a Tinder date who later buried her body in a shallow grave.

In May last year, 18-year-old Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez disappeared while travelling in Byron Bay on the New South Wales north coast. He has not been seen since.

Each of the women said they used Gumtree as they found it difficult to find casual work as employers are reluctant to hire people who are unable to remain long term.

Some of the unsolicited messages sent in response to a job add for a hospitality job.

Screenshots from the women show job requests for a sugar baby allegedly paying $8000, money laundering $250,000 and cash-in-hand offers for massages.

The majority of the jobs the women were seeking were for hospitality and cleaning. In many cases the women did not have a photo of themselves attached to their job ad.

"I have many, many disgusting messages regarding jobs from Gumtree," Amanda* told 9News.

"I found one genuine cleaning job but that only lasted for one day - because the guy chose to hire a student instead because their visa is three years instead of one year for working holiday visas like I have."

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Tamsin* recalled how one Australian farmer asked her if she had any issues working in a sports bra and swimsuit during a conversation about an irrigation job.

"I've actually never received a genuine job offer from there, only sexual advances from men," she said.

"He said actually you might have to strip down into a bikini. Then he said actually even a bikini bottom would wet the seat (of the truck). You'll have to be in a thong. Then he said would I accept working nude. I just kept thinking is he actually seriously asking for that? There are other things happening and it's crazy."

In a statement to 9News a spokesperson for Gumtree said the safety and security of "our community is our main priority".

"We consistently work with relevant authorities and our community to ensure everyone on the platform is operating within the confines of the law," the statement said.

Theo Hayez

"While the majority of our community members have a positive experience, on rare occasions bad seeds do target our users. We rely on our users' feedback to keep the platform safe and friendly. If Gumtree users feel unsafe or threatened while using the service, we recommend reporting it to us and ceasing communication with the user."

The spokesperson said the number one safety tip for job seekers, including backpackers, is to find out as much information about a company before interviewing and accepting a role. This includes asking for previous employee references and if all work is authorised and within the confines of the law.

"We encourage all job seekers to follow these tips to stay safe online," they said.

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"We rely on our users' feedback to keep the platform safe and strongly encourage our engaged community to report any concerning or suspicious listings so that Gumtree can remove any ads which breach our policies, terms of use, or Australia's employment laws. Our 'report ad' function and 24/7 live chat means our community support team are always available to answer questions on issues like this."

Photo Credit: Garry McNab

A spokesperson for the Fair Work Ombudsman said the Fair Work Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission "deal with matters relating to workplace bullying and harassment".

"All workers in Australia have the same basic workplace rights regardless of citizenship or visa status," the spokesperson told 9News said in a statement.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman has an agreement with the Department of Home Affairs where visa holders can ask for our help without fear of their visa being cancelled."

The federal government has a list of 70 approved employers under the Seasonal Workers Programme on its the Department of Skills, Small and Family Business' website. 

9News understands the 70 listed are those that have given the department consent to publish their details.

*Names have been changed.

Contact reporter Kate Kachor at

Source: 9News

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