“Tomorrow you’ll leave Hilton Park and go with D**** to spend the next week helping at the camp.”
It was my first day on the job at Hilton Park. Nothing had been previously mentioned about a week in the middle of nowhere. Not that I really understood just how rural the cattle station would be until I got there. The owners had a strange feel about them and it was like drawing blood from a stone as I questioned my destiny. ‘A helping hand’ was the gist of it; cleaning up after the blokes and preparing a hot dinner each night. If it meant days in the sunshine and nights under the stars, I could handle that.
The truck was packed to the brim with food for the next week. As I was handed sandwiches for the drive, I became aware that we were headed a long way. A 4 hour drive, he said – just ‘down the road’ for a local.
It became apparent early on that the driver was a bigot. Acutely aware that I was now on a straight road resembling nothing (with a stranger), I offered timid replies. This wasn’t the time to argue gay rights. When conversation transpired that old mate hadn’t had sex with his wife for quite awhile, my posture tightened and alarm bells rang.
“How long is your hair?” He asked.
Nervous rambling escaped my mouth and I longed for everyday small-talk.
As we rolled in to Normanton my heart sank. I’d been smart enough to tell a couple of people my rough where-abouts for the next 7 days, but I’d spelt it Edminton. Pushing paranoid thoughts aside, we stopped for a cold drink. It should have been more obvious that his choice would be a bottle of beer. When I returned from the toilet, he’d bought two more. He’s a big guy, I thought, as I reassured myself he’d still be safe to drive.
“Hand me one of those down by your feet would ya.”
My initial reaction was to reach for the lighter. But no, it was another beer he wanted as we turned down the last road to the camp. I watched as my phone lost signal for the next 7 days.
Fast-forward an hour or so, and he propped himself up nearby as I busied myself cleaning the kitchen. By now his quiet demeanour had become slurred. It was difficult to keep the paranoia out as he began to talk of previous helpers him and his wife had hired.
“We’ve had some right strange people working for us. One French girl stole, and another accused me of coming on to her. Said I sat next to her at a party, put my hand on her leg and whispered somethin’ inappropriate in her ear. S’alright though, we checked the cameras and it showed it was the other way ’round. Told her to get the fuck off my property!”
I attempted to change the subject. When would the others be arriving, I wondered. A couple more would be here by dark. This was the perfect opportunity for him to warn me of the other fellas. A young woman can never be too careful, and it was probably a good idea to put my bed near to D****’s so he could keep me safe. What other option did I have? Frankly I was a little too frightened to disagree with his idea, and full of dread that he might turn out to be the best of a bad bunch.
I arranged the two beds at a comfortable distance, only to observe him slyly moving them closer together shortly after.
Now it was time to get back in the car and drive around the 105,000 acre property. I attempted light-hearted chit-chat and was offered some weed instead. For the third time D**** reminded me that J** didn’t need to know about such things. I told it to him straight; it didn’t have an affect on me, so there wasn’t much point in me smoking.
I smoked. It somehow made sense for my safety.
What a mistake. My paranoia took a turn for the worst, considerably so when D****’s next question was whether I’d ever shot a rifle.
THERE WAS A GUN IN THE CAR?!
As I sat there, rifle hanging out of the window, one hand on the trigger, I froze. Was this a big build up to my murder? Which tree was he going to bury me under? Jesus Kelly, why do you always go in to things wholeheartedly?! Suspicions should definitely have risen when J** mentioned Wolf Creek on the first day.
Successfully controlling my inner monologue, I prepared to shoot. D**** decided this would be a good time to cover my ears. Not feeling comfortable, I told him there was no need. Apparently this entitled him to run his right hand over my shoulder, down my side and rest on my hip.
The gun went off.
Acting like a clueless schoolgirl I shifted in my seat with excitement – anything to get his paws off me.
“You can tell you do a lot of exercise. You got a real sexy body.”
My skin crawled and my head span. In all honesty at this moment in time I thought it was all over for me. I felt lost. I was lost! All I knew is that I was somewhere in Queensland. For all I knew there weren’t any other people arriving later. He had the power and I was defenceless.
That night two more guys did arrive. I cooked us dinner, D**** returned to his introverted state and everyone went to bed early. I lay there a long time wide-eyed and alert, but thankfully the only thing that got too close for comfort was the odd mosquito.
Upon my return to Julia Creek the proud housewife welcomed me in by saying:
“Oh thank God; you’re alive!”
A lighthearted joke or not, I can safely say it did not sit well with me.
Unfortunately for me there were further occasions that caused me fear, disgust and vulnerability. This man attempted to pay me money so that I would sleep with his nephew and he tried to tell me about a sexual dream he’d had about me before I told him to shut up.
I also found out back at Hilton Park that D**** had told the other men that day (on the cattle station) to “keep your hands off, I’m going to fuck her first”.
After I left the farm, I wrote the wife a letter in hope she would do something to prevent this happening to the next backpacker. He apparently ripped the letter up and they are still living life as ‘normal’.
It took a lot for me to write this down. For months I have been questioning the importance of voicing my experience. In the end, it boils down to one thing; perhaps the next person won’t be so lucky. It may sound dramatic, but I spent 3.5 months living/working with these people, and I got to know D****’s outrageous mind, and J**’s absurd ignorance of it. They aren’t good people.
Their offer of free food, free accommodation, a generous weekly wage and the power to sign off second-year visas just isn’t worth it. When you aren’t succumbing to D****’s slimy mind, you’ll be treated as a slave around the house.
If the want to carry out your 88 rural work in Queensland beckons, take my advice:
AVOID HILTON PARK IN JULIA CREEK.