Five women from a remote village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea have been recruited to pick mandarins at Ironbark Citrus in outback Queensland. Ironbark Citrus joined the Seasonal Worker Programme in 2012 and also recruits workers from Timor-Leste and Tonga. Working in Australia has been life-changing for the workers.
Women in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are responsible for 70 to 80 per cent of the manual work associated with food production, preparation and handling; however, they are rarely acknowledged or compensated financially for this pivotal role.
In the highlands of PNG, women work in physically demanding conditions, farming on steep hillsides and in isolated areas. Moreover, to sell their produce, they often walk long distances up steep inclines to roadside collection points, carrying heavy produce, and often a child on their back.
This is life for women in the highlands of PNG, as described by Alice, one of five women who secured employment at Ironbark Citrus in Queensland through the Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) in 2018.
“In PNG, every day women wake up at 5am. We prepare breakfast and work in the garden, we dig trenches, level the land, fetch water and cook for the family,” Alice said.
“It is continuous—every day—but we get no money for this, we do it free for our family. We look after the kids, wash the kids, carry them on our head along with a heavy bag of vegetables—we work like bulldozers!”
When the women arrived in Australia in April 2018, four of the group of five had never been on a plane, let alone travelled overseas before.
While in Australia, the women discovered eBay, and purchased items online that were delivered to them at Mundubbera Caravan Park.
Alice said, “I bought solar panels for my house and I also bought a laptop for my kids, and a tablet … then I downloaded all of the English grammar programs for my kids to watch and learn at home. It’s amazing!”
The women have now completed two seasons working at Mundubbera, returning to PNG between seasons. In addition to paying for school fees, each of the women has their own goal to start a small business or improve their own farm.