The ad for the hostel was very positive: “Don’t take a chance with your fruit picking experience, it should be one of the best times of your life,” it said. So we rang up the place to arrange fruitpicking on the Murray River in Victoria.

We were told there was plenty of work available and to come up immediately.

So we left awesome Melbourne and all our friends for an adventure, and by f*ck we got one! After hiking with our backpacks to the station we spent the last of our coffers on a torturously slow and smelly overnight bus believing our money problems would soon be over.

Ghost town

At 6am we finally arrived at the hamlet (what’s smaller than a hamlet?) near Mildura and made our way to the “newly renovated hotel” where we sat in the dark for a couple of hours till someone finally came and gruffly checked us in for a week.

We soon met some of the other backpackers who were all off that day (no work!) and were told that there was no work at the moment. We confirmed this with the staff… there would be nothing for the next two weeks!

We were disgusted – we had been guaranteed work on the phone and paid for a week, but we were not alone. Most people we spoke to had a similar story. No one had managed to save any money, even those who were there long-term to get their visa extensions.

Basically with nothing to do in this ghost town and being forbidden to drink in the rooms, all there was to do was sit around the bar or play pool, unless you took to drinking in the park or made a lengthy trip to Mildura. Several people had rent due and bar tabs owing and were thus trapped here until they had paid their debts.

The place felt a bit like a prison. There were random bits of clothing and shoes on the roof which seemed to suggest people had made a run for it in the middle of the night, scattering their belongings behind them. After 200 games of ‘shithead’, my friend and I had a dance competition in our room just to relieve the boredom. We even resorted to going for a jog!

The hostel was freezing and security practically non-existent. The back door of our floor was left open constantly for the bloody cat and there were holes in all the windows and even walls (probably the result of disgruntled brick-throwing backpackers), there were only eight hobs in a tiny kitchen you couldn’t swing the cat in, one sink with taps falling off, and two showers and two toilets upstairs to cater for up to 140 people (in high season).

The other bathrooms were out of bounds due to leaking pipes and were being used as storerooms. The place was skanky, grubby and completely permeated with the smell of booze and fags. So much for being “newly renovated!”

Back to civilisation

Outside of the hotel, the town was a tiny place with only an IGA for shopping, locals who looked like they’d married their cousins and the big attraction being, wait for it folks… ‘Big Lizzie’ – a big tractor thing.

We very quickly decided to get the f*ck out of there and back to civilisation. On our last day we took a bus to Mildura where we saw an ad for orange picking and packing with immediate start, offering $600-$900 per week. But we’d booked our bus and had had enough, so we happily returned to Melbourne that night. We had survived in one piece. It was like a happy ending to a horror story.