Backpackers return for another harvest

By Country News

Fruit-picking season is under way in the Goulburn Valley with thousands of backpackers making their way to the region to find work.

Orchard owner Sunny Uppal has relied on backpackers to pick apricots, pears and plums on his Shepparton East property for the past five years.

‘‘We go through a few backpackers a year,’’ he said.

After dry weather and devastating hail in the area last year, Mr Uppal said the season had started pretty well and looked promising.

‘‘We got a bit of damage on apricots, and just an odd hit on pears,’’ he said.

‘‘The season will probably be the same as last year because it is just a nice crop.’’

Mr Uppal has four French backpackers picking on his orchard, who he hired through job and training facilitator MADEC, but expects this number to rise.

‘‘At the moment with not much happening we might get eight, but with pears we might get up to 20 to 25 plus contractors.

‘‘We have a deadline — as we have more rows to pick we just add more people.’’

Engaged couple Vanessa Mendes and Adrien Santos, both 27, are originally from Portugal but live in France.

They have been travelling for 11 months and are working on the Uppal orchard to secure their second-year visas to continue their travels.

Mr Santos’ parents visited Australia last year to see their son, and the four of them travelled to places including Kangaroo Island, Coober Pedy and Townsville.

He said it was a dream come true for his mother to come to Australia, especially to Coober Pedy where she looked for opals.

Ms Mendes and Mr Santos spent New Year’s Eve in Sydney watching the spectacular fire works display with the other couple picking on Uppal Orchard, Charlotte Caqueret and Sebastien Rech, both 24.

Ms Caqueret and Mr Rech have come back to Shepparton to work the harvest after spending time in the area last year.

‘‘We came back to Shepparton for a job, we know Shepparton, it is nice,’’ Ms Caqueret said.

‘‘It is our job, but it is for our dreams.’’

Ms Caqueret and Mr Santos said they had seen mostly European backpackers in the area, especially from Germany and France.

Ms Caqueret said she had also noticed Italian, British and Brazilian backpackers.