Backpacker Mia Ayliffe-Chung Facebook post sent before murder was ‘I’m worrying’

September 10, 2016 3:30 am

was violently stabbed to death at Shelley’s Backpackers in Home Hill, near Townsville in far north . Photo /

Just days before she was violently stabbed to death in far north Queensland, backpacker Mia Ayliffe-Chung reached out to her mother back home in England.
In a series of heartbreaking Facebook messages from one side of the world to the other, the 21-year-old made a childlike confession: “I’m so worrying.”
Her anxious mum, Rosie Ayliffe, swiftly replied: “Worrying?”
Ms Ayliffe-Chung, who had recently arrived at Shelley’s Hostel in remote Home Hill and taken a job at a sugarcane farm, admitted: “I don’t want to not get enough work.”

Backpackers comfort each other outside the Home Hill Backpackers after three people were stabbed. Photo / Zak Simmonds, Corp

Like many other backpackers, she needed to find 88 days’ work on a farm to extend her visa and stay in for a second year. The job was tough, consisting of eight-hour days picking up stones from between rows of crops to stop them interfering with machinery.

Her mother tried to reassure her daughter, signing off with two kisses, a smiley-face emoji and the parting joke, “Remember Holes?”, in reference to the 2003 movie about a boy digging holes in a chain gang at a desert detention camp.But she was “determined” to make it through so she could stay in Australia and gain sponsorship, using her childcare qualification or trying to obtain management training at the club where she had worked on the Gold Coast.
“She worked every day she could, right through the weekend,” Ms Ayliffe told, adding that she was nervous her daughter would get bitten by one of Queensland’s poisonous snakes. “She felt she had to work really fast.
“She spoke to me so often that week, that was unusual. She was homesick, she was intending to fly home for Christmas.”

The 21-year-old British backpacker told her mother she was ‘worrying’ about finding enough work before her death. Photo / Facebook

Tragically, the young woman from Derbyshire was to face much worse than a snake bite as she chased her dream of one day gaining Australian citizenship in the isolated farming region.
Just days after the conversation, at 11pm on 23 August, police allege Algerian-French backpacker Smail Ayad went on a murderous rampage at a Home Hill hostel, stabbing to death the young woman he had developed an obsessive crush upon.
Her friend and fellow British backpacker Tom Jackson stepped in to try to save her life, but was stabbed more than 20 times and died five days later in hospital.
Mr Jackson had worked with his alleged killer, Ayad, at the same capsicum farm in the tiny town of Gumlu, 45 minutes outside Home Hill and 120km south of Townsville.
The heroic 30-year-old wasn’t even supposed to be there on the night he died, exclusively revealed this week. Mr Jackson had spent a “miserable” final week in “Hell Hill” and had wanted to leave and go travelling around Queensland. He never made it.
Ms Ayliffe-Chung was also almost not at the hostel on the day she died. She was supposed to be strawberry picking an hour away from Surfers Paradise, her mother said, but “decided to stay with the lads” – two British friends.
“It was always me and her, we had an almost umbilical link,” said the grieving mum. “She’d walk into a room, look at me, and say, ‘What’s wrong?’ without me speaking.
“I don’t sleep much since she died.
“She was good with people, she had exceptonal qualities. Dry sense of humour, insightful, careful not to hurt people although could be very direct.”

Flowers and memorial at Shelley’s hostel, where Ms Ayliffe-Chung was killed. Photo / Mark Calleja, News Corp Australia

“Heat exhaustio and second-degree burns”

Tiny Home Hill and its twin town Ayr are inundated with backpackers between May and October each year. Young travellers get paid $22 an hour, out of which they pay up to $12 a day to mini-vans that transport them to farms up to an hour north and south of the communities on the Burdekin River.
Rent at a hostel ranges from $150 to $165 a week per person in a six to eight-bed dorm and $170 to $180 in a double room.
Many travellers say they struggle to find 88 days of work, and when they do, it is often insufficient to cover their accommodation costs.
Ms Ayliffe-Chung’s concerns about finding steady work through Australia’s farm work scheme are revealed as calls grow louder for reform to the agriculture-for-visa system.
It may be too late for her daughter, but that Facebook conversation has left Ms Ayliffe on a mission to find out more about the farms where travellers work, with the help of Ms Ayliffe-Chung’s friends and a personal injury lawyer.
“Some farms pretend they can sign kids off, they do the 88 days and then they say, oh no sorry we’re not part of the system. Mia also said there was a girl who was hurt doing farmwork, on crutches, and she said, they’re being really nice to her, because it’s their fault.
“There are awful things going on all over the country regarding the farmwork.”

Smail Ayad was arrested for the alleged murder of the young British backpacker, with whom he was infatuated. Photo / Facebook

“Desperate for visas”

Many farm workers say it is “backbreaking” work, and that the combination of alcohol and long days of hard labour combine to create a febrile atmosphere seething with violence among the backpackers.
Ms Ayliffe’s lawyer Sam Warming told “We have a situation whereby travellers are desperate for visas, which requires them, inter alia, to work on farms in rural areas for 88 days.
“There is often a correlation between desperate workers, especially those hired for short periods … and low pay.
“We have backpackers who will take the work under almost any conditions for short periods.
“I think this will be a difficult issue to tackle for our Government. Agriculture is a major component of our economy, around three to five per cent of our GDP as far as I am aware, and it is no secret that Australia’s global market share of supplying agricultural products is declining.
“The cost of labour plays a major factor in Australia’s inability to compete on an international playing field. Farm work is incredibly hard work, which is one of the many reasons farmers are struggling to find permanent Australian workers. It is probably relevant to note that all of the travelling workers are not voters, as opposed to the farm owners and employers.
“It will certainly be interesting to see how the Government handles these issues and ensure that our agriculture industry remains feasible in the process.
“A lot of hostels market themselves as working hostels, providing access to employment.
“I think that our Government, and the farmers, need to be aware that these backpackers are people as well, and remind themselves of what we offer as a country. If our government is going to make these requirements, then our government has a responsibility.”

Backpackers comfort each other outside the Home Hill Backpackers after three people were stabbed. Photo / Zak Simmonds News Corp

Hell Hill

“There is nothing to do except drink. It was like a jail,” French backpacker Edward Moine, who left Home Hill because he felt too isolated, told “After one night a fight between two travellers broke out and the police came and ordered us to stay in our rooms.”
European backpacker called Jarno wrote on TripAdvisor that he stayed for a month in Home Hill two years ago, but only managed to get seven days’ work.
He said he couldn’t cope with the constant noise of others partying when he had to wake up at 5.30am to board the minibus to the picking fields.
“I witnessed two major fights and three times police arrived shouting at us to get back to bed,” he said. “The only reason I stayed for a month was the hope for getting to work. Some people worked five days a week, others were waiting for weeks without nothing to do. There has to be better options than this Hell Hill.”
Mick, from Canada, said: “They know we are expendable. My first farm I got sacked on the first day.”
The Burdekin Shire Council told the backpacker fruit and vegetable picking scheme contributed millions to the regional economy.
“We love our backpackers and we have many hundreds through here in a season,” the council’s media manager Julie Davies said.
Burdekin Shire Mayor Lyn McLaughlin told that the entire town of Home Hill had been traumatised by the alleged murders.
“People are sad and become attached to the backpackers in town like their own children,” Ms McLaughlin said.
“The tragedy that occurred here has touched many locals and the backpackers wrote a note thanking Home Hill for all their care following the tragedy.
“But [backpacker fruit and vegetable picking] is a well-established industry here for the last 15 or 20 years and I see it continuing.
“We have another proposed hostel in the approval stages.”

The murdered backpacker’s mother is trying to find out more about working conditions on Aussie farms where travellers do tough agricultural work to extend their visas. Photo / Facebook

“My whole being seems to be swelling with grief”

In a touching tribute on the UK’s Channel 4 last night, Ms Ayliffe said her journey to Australia had been hard but she was privileged to meet her daughter’s friends, many of whom helped crowdfund a funeral and memorial service.
“What’s seen me through is the most incredible friendships that Mia formed out there and the wonderful girls and boys I’ve met who … crowdfunded her funeral,” she said. “We’ve formed really strong bonds.”
Last week she told Seven News how grateful she was for the bravery of Mr Jackson, who has since been nominated for a posthumous bravery award by the Queensland government.
“He’s an incredible young man, there’s no two ways about it,” Ms Ayliffe said. “It was an act of exceptional bravery.”
In a daily column she is writing for UK news site The Independent, Ms Ayliffe said she continues to struggle with thoughts of her violent last moments.
“What of this new grief? How am I holding up on this interminable flight to retrieve her body? Well, not so well … the least suggestion of pain and violence on the film I’m trying to watch brings horrific visions of Mia’s final moments into my head.
“I was told by the police that Mia was unconscious after the first blow, but my brain refuses to believe that, and instead it plays and replays that ugly scene for me until my whole being seems to be swelling up with grief.”
Ayad will next appear in court in October facing murder charges.
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