Last August, Rosie Ayliffe’s worst nightmare came true. Her treasured daughter, Mia Ayliffe-Chung, was brutally murdered at a backpacker hostel in Herne Hill, Queensland.
Mia, who was just 20, was making her way around the world on what was meant to be the trip of a lifetime. Instead she was killed at the remote hostel while trying to fulfil the 88 days of farm work needed to extended her working holiday visa.
Her mother passionately believes that the poor conditions at the hostel made Mia’s death less surprising. “The backpackers call it ‘hellhole hostel’,” Ayliffe told marie claireearlier this year.
“Young people are competing for work, as there isn’t enough to go round. There is no entertainment, they’re in the middle of nowhere, hours from the nearest town, and there is an aggressive highly charged atmosphere.”
Tonight Ayliffe will appear in the first of a two-part documentary with the ABC’s Australian Story (to be aired on the 10th and the 17th July) that highlights the exploitation and poor conditions that backpackers are facing on a daily basis.
In the lead-up to the documentary, the grieving mother spoke to marie claire about her campaign for justice for her daughter. Specifically, she hopes to improve conditions for other backpackers and young people as part of a campaign called Tom and Mia’s Legacy. (Tom Jackson, 30, died trying to protect Mia).
But her campaign has not been met by enthusiasm form everyone.
During the filming of the ABC documentary Ayliffe travelled to Herne Hill to create a memorial garden for Mia and Tom. She planted hibiscus and frangipani trees that she decked with fairy lights and also placed a budda head nearby. “It would have looked really nice once everything had grown,” Ayliffe tells marie claire.
Sadly, the local council removed the garden telling Ayliffe that the garden breached regulations. She doesn’t buy their explanation though. “They don’t want a lingering memory of [Mia and Tom’s] deaths,” she says.
Although the transient backpacker community might forget Mia and Tom, exploitation of young people taking part in the 88-day scheme remains rife. A recent survey of 4056 overseas workers found that a whopping 66 per cent felt taken advantage of by their employer.
As well as being financially exploited, Ayliffe has also discovered that young women are being coerced sexually and are vulnerable to sexual assault.
Aylife is optimistic that her new website 88daysandcounting will change that. The idea is that backpackers can leave honest reviews of the farms they’ve worked at so that others have a solid recommendation of safe reputable farms. “Some of the reviews that we’ve received so far have reported issues such as over-crowding, blocked fire escapes, fire risks and vermin,” says Ayliffe.
Positive reviews on the other hand, speak of thorough health and safety inductions and safe clean accommodation. “It can be done. Backpackers are not the hardest people to please. They want to get their teeth into some hard work.”
During conversations with Mia’s friends Ayliffe discovered that Mia had talked about creating a central website that backpackers could use to share information. In building the website now, Ayliffe feels that she is putting Mia’s plan into action.
On top of that, she has found a way to memorialise Mia so that her tragic death wasn’t for nothing.