Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker has reassured the community over concerns surrounding backpackers coming to the region.
Bowen Gumlu Growers Association president Carl Walker has reassured the community over concerns surrounding backpackers coming to the region.

Leaders reassure community over backpacker concerns

"COMMUNITY concern" about the number of backpackers arriving in Bowen for picking season has prompted horticultural leaders to reassure residents that farmers were doing everything possible to keep workers and residents safe.

Bowen Gumlu Growers Association (BGGA) president Carl Walker stressed that farmers were doing "everything they can" to make the season as safe as possible, with police even helping to patrol social distancing measures among backpackers.

"It's going to be a very different season. It will be very serious, no parties, and just people who want to do the right thing and work," he said.

PRIME PRODUCE: President of the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association Carl Walker, Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner and Japanese exchange student Yoshi admire some of the tomato produce from Koorelah Farms in Bowen.
PRIME PRODUCE: President of the Bowen Gumlu Growers Association Carl Walker, Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner and Japanese exchange student Yoshi admire some of the tomato produce from Koorelah Farms in Bowen.

"Most of the backpackers are taking it seriously and the ones that aren't taking it seriously, well the simple fact is we don't want them here.

"We're telling anyone who doesn't want to come and work and obey the rules to stay wherever you are, as we only want the people here who understand they need to work and isolate."

Mr Walker complimented the Bowen police, who he said were doing a "marvellous job under the circumstances".

Bowen Police Senior Sergeant Craig Shepherd confirmed police were doing multiple patrols a day to make sure backpackers were adhering to strict social distancing measures.

"They've all been really good and we haven't encountered any problems, and we expect it to stay that way," he said.

"They've all been behaving as they know the extremity of the situation."

Julia Wheway at the Bowen District Growers Association Christmas party.
Julia Wheway at the Bowen District Growers Association Christmas party.

The patrols will continue for the foreseeable future to minimise risk to the community and growers, something Julia Wheway, agricultural workforce officer for BGGA, said was very important this year.

She said it would be a 'very different Bowen' than previously seen, with some growers already changing their entire operations to conform with new measures.

"We understand the community has some concerns about the transient workforce, and we want to reassure them we're working very closely with all levels of government to ensure measures are put in place to protect the workers in the community," she said.

"A confirmed case has the potential to close an entire farm down, so growers are taking this very seriously.

"Bowen accommodation providers for the backpackers are going to be working together with farming workplaces to have strict procedures in place.

AWARDED: Bowen Gumlu Growers Association President Carl Walker was named the first #eatqld Champion, in recognition of his work promoting Queensland produce. Picture: Jordan Gilliland
AWARDED: Bowen Gumlu Growers Association President Carl Walker was named the first #eatqld Champion, in recognition of his work promoting Queensland produce. Picture: Jordan Gilliland

"Everyone has heard the stories of backpackers down south spreading the virus, but we typically see more mature people travel to Bowen.

"Farmers will also play a large part in helping decide who is sensible enough to work in the region by who they hire."

She encouraged community members who had concerns to reach out to the BGGA for further clarification.

Mr Walker said anyone who didn't think farmers were taking COVID-19 precautions seriously were "kidding themselves".

"This is not a joke, this is serious. If we don't obey the rules we'll be attending far too many funerals of people we love," he said.

"'We need workers though and we're putting in a lot of measures with all forms of government to make sure that the transient workforce is safe for the community."


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