Backpacker's real-life Wolf Creek experience

By Debra Killalea

Italian backpacker Natalie claims she had her own 'Wolf Creek' experience when working at a remote farm. Photo / File
Italian backpacker Natalie claims she had her own 'Wolf Creek' experience when working at a remote farm. Photo / File

Natalie thought she was signing up for a bit of farm work as part of her visa requirement. The Italian-born backpacker had no idea it would lead to what she calls her own Wolf Creek experience.

And she reckons what she saw and went through is scarier than any movie.

At 27 and having just completed a year of her working holiday stint, she decided to extend her stay by spending part of the second year doing agriculture work - a prerequisite of the 417 visa.

The IT worker had done all the research and picked a farm thinking it looked above board and more importantly would be something she would enjoy.

But the minute her farmer picked her up she knew something was wrong.

For a start she was the only farmhand around when she was led to believe there were several others.

He was also rude, aggressive and stank of alcohol.

Natalie escaped the farm with the help of police and has since found an IT job in Sydney. Photo / SBS
Natalie escaped the farm with the help of police and has since found an IT job in Sydney. Photo / SBS

After arriving at the farm, she said the bed was unmade and she didn't have clean sheets.

But that was the least of her troubles. She would go on to experience what she says were the worst two weeks of her life.

"It was terrible," she said.

"People say to me have you see Wolf Creek, and at the time I hadn't ... but people had no idea how unsafe I really was."

Not only did she have no phone reception or internet, but the farmer she worked for followed her every move, constantly intimidated her and subjected her to degrading treatment.

She said she was scared to go to bed at night, especially when he brought his mates over to drink beer and rate the women who worked for them.

"It was almost as if he was trying to make me scared, made me do things a normal person wouldn't do," she said.

"He was into animal slaughtering and asked if I would kill one and I said no.

"One time he killed a lamb in front of me and said 'this is what happens when things annoy me.'"

Her story, which appears on SBS Insight Fair work, fair pay - who's getting ripped off at work? explores how widespread migrant worker exploitation really is.

Two years later, the Sydney-based resident said she has been left traumatised by the experience and what she was made to hack off lamb tails with a blunt knife.

"He told me I had to do it, and I said I couldn't," she said.

"He told me I had to ****ing do this ... it was awful. Blood squirted everywhere. He held them while I cut half of the herd."

The next day they drove into the field where they found a sick lamb, it was thrown into the back of the truck and left there.

The next morning it was still bleating so the farmer pulled it off the truck and slit its throat there and then in front of her, despite her telling the farmer she couldn't bear to watch a slaughter.

I thought if I do something that puts my life in danger then I'm screwed.
Backpacker Natalie

By now Natalie said she wasn't sleeping and felt her life was in danger but tried not to show it and most of all not argue back.

"I thought if I do something that puts my life in danger then I'm screwed," she said.

She knew she had to escape but with no phone reception or internet access, getting out would be hard.

It wasn't until the farmer went out one day without her that she made her move to escape.

"I went into the office and he told me there was no Wi-Fi, but being in IT I found a router and plugged it in," she said.

"I knew if I didn't go soon I would do something to p*** him off.

"I emailed my boss in Sydney and told them I needed help."

Natalie said police were contacted and when she saw their car coming up the driveway a short time later she literally jumped in while it was still moving.

"I burst into tears," she said.

"By this stage I was hyperventilating."

She said police had been called to the farm in the past but she was told because the farmer committed no crime he couldn't be charged with any offence.

For Natalie, however the experience scarred her and almost made her give up her dream of staying in the country she had fallen in love with.

She eventually stayed on a farm with a family in Victoria before securing a role in IT software recruitment where she is now sponsored.

Natalie said her story, while extreme, was not unusual and knew of several people who had suffered abuse and exploitation at the hands of an employer.

"The stories I have," she said. "I know people who have been abused so badly but they don't go to police so their bosses get away with it."

I know people who have been abused so badly but they don't go to police so their bosses get away with it.
Natalie

She said many backpackers just rode it out as they knew staying was their only chance of securing a visa so "put up with the abuse".

"For me this (man) was the scariest person I had ever been near, and I don't scare easily," she said.

"Looking back I can't believe I stayed for two weeks. I still wonder did I really go through all that?"

Australia has around a million workers who are currently visa holders, many of whom aren't even fully aware of their rights.

According to Associate Professor at Melbourne Law School Joo-Cheong Tham the exploitation of migrant workers is a lot bigger than we believe.

"Natalie's case is certainly extreme but we are seeing increased cases of exploitation," he said.

Tham also said many migrant workers did not always have great support networks and put up with exploitation for the sake of a visa.

"The agriculture industry has notoriously low levels of adherence to labour laws," he said.

He said many were also exploited in the hospitality industry and estimated around 90 per cent were underpaid.

However, he said a lack of options meant many were forced to accept lower rates of pay.

*Names have been withheld for privacy purposes

- news.com.au

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