Four Australian backpackers had their ‘Australian dream’ trips turned upside down when the Black Summer bushfires and Covid-19 pandemic hit. However, the group says they have now found their “home away from home” at Adelong BlazeAid, helping local farmers repair their fences after the devastating blazes tore through properties across the region.
Jackie Cunningham from Toronto, Canada said she had been looking at coming to Australia for a few years and finally saved up enough money to visit, arriving in March just before the pandemic took off in the country.
“I came at a bad time, but here I am,” she laughed.
Ms Cunningham began working with BlazeAid at the end of June after finding out about the organisation on Facebook.
“I was looking for farm work and couldn’t find anything, so found this and I was like, I might as well get my days done,” Ms Cunningham said.
Earlier this year, a temporary change was made to Australia’s working-holiday visa rules to allow volunteering to be counted towards the 88 days of work required for backpackers to extend their visas.
Although volunteering with BlazeAid was something Ms Cunningham hadn’t originally planned on doing, she said it has been a great experience “giving back to the farmers” after watching the fires on the news at home.
“It’s our first time [building fences], and they’re all teaching us – all the older guys, all the experienced ones – are teaching us all their knowledge,” she said.
“[The farmers] all talk about everything that happened, it’s very sad, but they’re pushing through it and they’re loving the help.”
Before coming to Adelong, Ms Cunningham was working a cleaning job in Orange. After completing her work at BlazeAid she wants to visit the coast and has some big travel plans if the Covid-19 pandemic allows for it.
“I want to visit every big city and I would like to buy a camper van eventually and do a road trip,” she said, particularly wanting to visit Perth.
Commenting on the similarities between Australia and Canada, Ms Cunningham said the lifestyle and “laid back” attitude is alike. As for differences: “the language; you guys have your whole other language,” she laughed, referencing Australian lingo such as “sanga” and “Maccas.”
“I find it funny, even in the commercial on TV you guys say Maccas.”
Lucie Chillon and David Feurier, a couple from Bordeaux, France, say that Australia is “very different from France.”
Ms Chillon said their trip to Australia is “a dream” and that they would like to travel around the whole country if possible, having arrived in October last year.
After travelling along the east coast between Cairns and Sydney, the pair have now found themselves in Adelong where they love the “beautiful area” and “good vibes” at the BlazeAid camp.
“It’s very small, it’s far [from] the Coast, but it’s a new experience,” Ms Chillon said, admitting she prefers to be in the bush rather than in the city.
“[The camp is] like a family.”
Mr Feurier said he has been able to utilise skills from his work in France here in Adelong to help out.
“In France I work on automotives, so here I can work in the shed to fix something, do some welding, and Lucie [works] in the kitchen,” he said, adding that they both also help with fencing from time to time.
“It’s very important for us to help after the bushfires,” Mr Feurier said.
The couple want to visit Tasmania during the summer, if it is possible, and want to spread the word to other backpackers that BlazeAid volunteering is an option for their second-year visa, because “a lot of backpackers don’t know it’s possible.”
Lorna Logg from Leeds in the United Kingdom arrived in Australia last September, experiencing “all there was to see down the east coast” from skydiving to snorkelling before settling in Sydney in November.
She had planned to begin farm work in March, however the Covid-19 pandemic made finding work almost impossible.
“I gave a month’s notice at my job, a month’s notice on my apartment, and I said to my boyfriend ‘I’m gonna come and stay at your house for a week and then I’ll go and get a farm job,’ and the week I moved in everything closed down,” Ms Logg said.
“Farms weren’t taking anybody, BlazeAid closed its doors, so one week turned into two months.”
Her Australia trip was something she had planned for a long time, calling the visa a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. When she couldn’t find work, her dream almost came to an end.
“There was a few tears shed, the Australian dream nearly came to an end a few times,” she said, admitting she considered returning home.
“Literally every backpacker I knew went home, [but] I decided to ride it out.”
Eventually, Ms Logg found work on a property in Adelong that had been affected by the bushfires whilst BlazeAid’s doors were still closed.
“BlazeAid came and volunteered on the property I was at, so I sort of got chatting to them and did a few days here volunteering and really liked it, so I moved here permanently,” she said.
Ms Logg said she “absolutely loves it” in Adelong, and that she has the chance to see parts of Australia that most backpackers won’t see.
“I’ve been doing fencing for a week now and already I’ve been at a property with a farmer having a coffee, she’s been telling us about what the fires have done, we had an eldery lady come out and she’d baked us a cheese tart and she was talking to us,” Ms Logg said.
“Everyone is really appreciative of the work that’s being done, so it’s really rewarding.”
Ms Logg said she admires the attitudes of the farmers she has met.
“It’s quite inspiring hearing how resilient farmers are with rebuilding,” she said.
“All the farmers I’ve met, nobody seems to sit and take pity on themselves, they’re all about moving forwards getting back on with it and rebuilding.”
The UK-native said that because she was in Australia when the bushfires hit, “it was only right” to dedicate her time to helping with the rebuilding.
“The bushfires in Australia have been such a huge event, your kids are gonna go on to learn about this, and it’s nice to be able to say, yeah I was in Australia and I did something about it, rather than I was just in Sydney having a great time,” she said.
“Australia’s given me some of the best memories of my life, so it’s nice to give a little something back to Australia.”