Nomads, retirees, and jobless city people make an effort to bolster harvest picker workforce

Cathy Downie has been picking grapes in Mildura, in Victoria’s Sunraysia region, for just over a week, but has learnt quickly what makes a good bunch.

“You do what they say is ‘trimming’. So you take off the little ones, the dead ones, the ones that are bruised, tidy up your bunch, and then just put it in the bucket and start the process again,” she said.

The 57-year-old spent the past 30 years living and working in Sydney as a recruitment consultant until she lost her job due to the pandemic.

“I was sitting around wondering what am I going to do now and I thought what better way to travel around Australia, picking fruit and vegies,” she said.

“I took advantage of getting my super out and bought a camper van so I don’t even need to worry about accommodation.”

Ms Downie is part of a growing number of grey nomads taking up seasonal harvest jobs, partly lured by the chance to change their lifestyle and travel.

“Just hearing some of the stories from farmers around Australia and how much they relied on backpackers from overseas, that really resonated with me,” Ms Downie said.

“I’m in a Facebook group of 11,000 women travelling solo around Australia and I just encourage them to take up and do what I’m doing,” she said.

Citrus farmer Kevin Cock from Buronga in south-west New South Wales said grey nomads were a reliable part of his workforce for the past 10 years.

“Most of them set off around Australia, they land in the caravan park, you put your name in there and see if anyone wants work,” Mr Cock said.

He said with Australia’s international border closed the older worker are helping to fill jobs once taken by backpackers and workers from the Pacific.

“Most of them come out having never had experience, so you’ve got to do a bit of training. But they are skilled people,” he said.

“I’ve had accountants, I’ve had nurses, I’ve had engineers, I’ve had the lot. They’re dedicated.”

The Victorian government offers a $2,500 cash bonus to entice domestic workers to pick fruit and vegetables.

The federal government is also encouraging Aussies to move to the regions by offering up to $6,000 to cover things like transport and accommodation, but few have taken it up.

“The last update we had about the federal government’s relocation assistance program was about 500 people,” said NFF Horticulture Council executive officer Tyson Cattle.

He said the incentives were generous, but more needed to be done to attract a domestic workforce to farming.

“There’s plenty of money available but it has always been a hard one for the industry to crack, a domestic audience in terms of harvest labour,” Mr Cattle said.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) confirmed this week that labour shortages in the horticulture sector have led to a fall in horticulture production across the country.

According to ABARES, the lack of supply in overseas harvest workers will result in a forecast drop in fruit production by 17 per cent and vegetable production by around 2 per cent.

Meanwhile, Cathy Downie said she had not only found a new career, but a whole new way of life.

“I could say to anyone out there give it a go. You get your exercise, you’re working outside in the fresh air, you get money for food and petrol. I love it,” she said.

“This is my lifestyle now so I would say to people give it a go, you won’t look back.”

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Two Young Nomads (Meg and Ollie Clothier) spend honeymoon as caretakers on drought-affected farms

It’s been a honeymoon with a difference for South Australian farmers Meg and Ollie Clothier.

Instead of the usual two-week trip to an exotic or far-away location, the young couple decided to dedicate 2020 to drought-affected farmers across the country.

“We wondered how we could help things,” Mr Clothier said.

In the 12 months since they set off, the Two Young Nomads, as they are known, have clocked up more than 35,000 kilometres as volunteer caretakers.

For anywhere between one week and 10 days, the young couple caretakes a property, giving the owners a much-needed break.

Meg and Ollie hit the road to lend a hand.(ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons)

While they are at a property, the Clothiers essentially take on the role of the grazier.

They feed the stock, check water points and fence lines, feed pets and water the gardens.

“We’re doing pretty much everything that they need to keep the show running, so they can go away.”

‘Critical’ help at the right time

For the graziers getting some time away, what the Clothiers are doing eases a massive burden on their shoulders.

Brendan McNamara runs sheep and cattle on a property south-west of Hughenden, more than 1,400 kilometres from Brisbane.

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Meg and Ollie put out cottonseed for stock at Abbotsford Station.

He has benefited firsthand from the Clothiers’ work and said having them caretake the property was “critical”.

“They’re a great young couple and they need to be commended for what they’re doing,” Mr McNamara said.

Brendan McNamara, a western Queensland grazier, in focus wearing a hat and blue shirt, with house our of focus behind him
Grazier Brendan McNamara says the work Meg and Ollie do is “critical”.(ABC Western Queensland: Craig Fitzsimmons)

With the drought still stretching on, Mr McNamara said being able to leave his property and see different landscapes made a huge difference to his mental health.

“Most of us are pretty time-poor on properties these days, and to be able to get away for a period of time is great,” he said.

“It’s probably not good for your head, if you want to put it that way.”

Sheep and cattle surround a white ute where Ollie Clothier is standing, preparing the feed for the stock.
Meg and Ollie Clothier caretaking a property near Hughenden in western Queensland.(ABC Rural: Maddelin McCosker)

Extended honeymoon to help out

While the idea of living and working with your better half may be anxiety-inducing for some, Mr Clothier says it has been an adventure they will not forget.

“It’s been crazy,” he said

The Clothiers will soon finish at their last property for 2020 in the Northern Territory before heading home for Christmas and some much-needed time with their families.

At this stage, the couple isn’t sure if they will continue as the Two Young Nomads, but Ms Clothier said there were still plenty of opportunities to help farmers.

“The drought is not over,” she said.

“There are still places that are being hit very hard and there are still lots of people that need a break.”


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ACT police use new ‘unexplained wealth’ laws to seize property belonging to Nomads bikie gang president

ACT police have seized $500,000 worth of property belonging to an outlaw bikie gang leader under new “unexplained wealth” laws.

The police operation took place simultaneously across four locations last Thursday, targeting Nomads motorcycle gang national president Michael Clark.

Police confiscated three boats, fishing equipment, trailers and a caravan in the Batemans Bay area, as well as three Harley Davidson motorcycles in Canberra.

The property adds to two prestige cars and other items already seized from Mr Clark after his arrest in August.

Mr Clark was one of 11 people arrested as part of a cross-border investigation of several shootings on the New South Wales South Coast in December 2019.

The 32-year-old was extradited to NSW and charged with knowingly directing the activities of a criminal group, taking part in a criminal group, supplying banned firearms and supplying ammunition.

He was refused bail and remains in custody.

After his arrest, police raided two properties in Canberra suburbs Kingston and Kambah, and allegedly found a gun, illicit drugs, jewellery and bikie paraphernalia, including patches.

Legal changes provide broader powers to confiscate property

Detective Superintendent Scott Moller says the investigation of Michael Clark is ongoing.(ABC News)

With Mr Clark behind bars, ACT authorities have used new laws targeting unexplained wealth to seize some of his assets.

Policing Detective Superintendent Scott Moller warned his team were not done yet investigating the bikie boss.

“Certainly this investigation is not over and I’d imagine there will be further items seized in the future,” he said.

It is the first time the powerful new laws have been used.

In the past, authorities were only able to confiscate assets if a person had committed a serious offence and there was a link between the crime and their assets.

A boat on a trailer in a car park.
Another of the boats in the Batemans Bay area that ACT police seized last week.(Supplied: ACT Policing)

But the amended confiscation of criminal assets laws mean authorities now need only to suspect that a person’s wealth is due to criminal activity, because their lawfully acquired wealth is less than their total wealth.

“It’s very clear when an offender doesn’t have the financial income to support their lifestyle,” Superintendent Moller said.

“Many offenders or crime syndicates may believe that, once money has been invested in an asset such as property, it’s safe.

Victims of crime benefit as police take back criminal income

A man in a suit.
ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold, SC, says the new laws are a powerful anti-crime tool.(ABC News)

After an alleged offender’s assets are confiscated, they can be forfeited and become ACT property.

The forfeited assets are then usually sold off, with much of the proceeds spent helping victims of crime.

Over the past two years, authorities restrained about $7.2 million worth of property, and about $2.8 million was forfeited to the ACT.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold, SC, said the law was a powerful tool that deprived criminals of a financial windfall and ensured crime did not pay.

“If there’s no benefit in engaging in criminal activity, there’s a disincentive to engage in that criminal activity, so it’s really about breaking the business model of organised crime.

“It’s in everyone’s interest to disincentivise the conduct of crime — the territory wants to be an inhospitable environment for criminal gangs.”

Superintendent Moller said ACT Policing would continue to use several investigative strategies and laws to disrupt organised crime.

“Our end game is that there’s no profit in crime in Canberra and our detectives are using these new unexplained wealth laws to make sure of that,” he said.

“Removing assets limits offenders from re-investing money in illegal activities or expanding their wealth to commit more crime.”

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Nomads bikie boss arrested in Canberra in connection to NSW South Coast shootings

The national president of the Nomads outlaw motorcycle gang has been arrested in Canberra after allegedly supplying firearms that were used in three shootings on the NSW South Coast in December last year.

In a major operation, police yesterday arrested the 34-year-old man in Garran, in Canberra’s south, before raiding two properties in Kingston and Kambah.

Two cars were seized, as well as a firearm, illicit drugs, jewellery and bikie paraphernalia, including patches.

The man was taken to the ACT Watch House, to be extradited to NSW later today.

Detective Superintendent Scott Moller said the arrest was a major disruption to bikie activity.

“With the arrest of this Nomads national president, the influence of this club within Canberra is now extremely limited,” he said.

Police previously released CCTV images of two men wanted in connection to the South Coast crimes.(Supplied: NSW Police)

The arrest is the latest in an “extensive” investigation between Taskforce Nemesis, the ACT anti-bikie squad, and NSW’s Strike Force Essendene, which was established to investigate the 2019 South Coast shootings.

On December 1 and 2 last year, police were called to two homes in Batehaven and Nelligen after shots were fired into houses.

Soon after, police reported an incident on the Princes Highway just south of Batemans Bay where three men with firearms approached another three men, before a fight broke out and three of the men were hospitalised.

Ten people have been placed before the courts and 49 charges laid as a result of the investigation.

NSW Criminal Groups Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Robert Critchlow, said their work “will continue … across the country to ensure those who endanger lives through their illegal behaviour are put before the courts and held accountable”.

“If you wish to jeopardise the safety of the community … it is only a matter of time before we find you, no matter where you choose to hide,” he said.

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