I have recently returned from a three month road trip around the continent country of Australia and hoping to get a story published in the Australian press about a subculture of backpackers I met on my travels.
This subculture fits the typical stereotype of the backpacker in Australia. Young Europeans on a trip of a lifetime Downunder. Many come with little money but armed with a WHV (working holiday visa) they hope to work for some of their time in OZ before spending their hard earned on a trip around the country.
The reality of often very different. Unemployment in Australia is on the rise and competition for ‘backpacker’ type work is fierce. Much of the work in rural Australia is now offered on a voluntary basis.
This group of unemployed backpackers are rarely seen in the flashy backpacker hostels or holiday parks. A bed in a hostel in Sydney for instance can be up to $50 (£26) a night. Australia is no longer a cheap destination for the young budget traveller.
So during my trip in the trusty Toyota Station Wagon I came across many from this subculture. They were from France, Italy, Spain, Greece and not only were they sheltering from the European winter, they were also escaping the widespread youth unemployment in their countries.
The photo is from a roadside rest area, usually frequented by truckers and road weary travellers who stop off for a quick rest. This one near the popular resort of Byron Bay on the NSW coast was a virtual campsite. “Why pay $50 for a bed in a room with a dozen strangers when you can camp for free” is their claim.
I spoke to lots of the homeless backpackers and in many cases they could barely afford food let alone a bed in a ‘flashpackers’. They washed in the sea and showered by the beach and ate wherever they could fire up their stove. Some were getting by on just a few dollars a day saving only enough to change their return flight home.
I am not really sure what the purpose of me highlighting their plight and writing their story. In most cases they have a flight home and are certainly not on the brink of starvation. I guess I felt sorry for them. They are economic migrants of sorts and I don’t believe for one second that they set off from Paris, Madrid or Rome with the intention of sleeping night after night by the roadside eating instant noodles and taking cigarettes from passing motorists.
Australia is the dream destination of many young people the World over but it is a magnet for the unemployed youth of Europe. Like so many migrants the World over the green grass they seek is often illusive.