Helder Dias Ferreira is from Timor-Leste and has just finished his eighth season at Desert Springs Farm.
- Overseas seasonal workers have been stuck in Australia for almost 20 months
- Desert Springs Farm has become like a second home to its 22 seasonal workers
- Helder Dias Ferreira from Timor-Leste has finally been given the green light to head home to his family
He said thanks to COVID-19 he had now picked melons all over the country.
“Firstly, I was here [Desert Springs] and when the season was done from here I moved to Katherine.”
Once the melon harvest in Katherine wrapped up, Mr Ferreira travelled to NSW where he rolled up his sleeves for yet another melon harvest.
“All season with melons, all year with the melons means I have no break,” he said with a smile.
“I have a wife and two boys back home, they really miss me as well, we always keep in touch through social media.
“They always ask: ‘Dad, when are you coming home?'”
The last melon (for now)
After almost 20 months in Australia away from his family, Mr Ferreira has been given the green light to head home.
“I have plans for the end of June or first week of July,” he said.
“I’m going to spend time with the family for three months, then I’m going to come back for next season to this farm in October.”
The better wages and favourable working conditions on farms like Desert Springs in Australia are attractive to men with young families from Timor-Leste.
The seemingly endless lockdown in Australia has not yet dampened Mr Ferreira’s spirits.
“I really like this place,” he said.
“I bought land and built a new house [in Timor-Leste] for my kids and my wife, I work hard for my family.”
Season extends from six to 19 months
Desert Springs Farm, 170 kilometres south of Tennant Creek, is one of Central Australia’s biggest melon farms nestled in the vast expanse of red dirt and spinifex.
Farm manager Paul McLaughlin said this year’s farm crew largely hail from Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.
“We had two backpackers and 22 seasonal workers,” he said.
The seasonal melon pickers come to Australia for six to nine months of the year over harvest to earn good wages and send the earnings home to their family overseas.
However, when they arrived in October of 2019 little did they know they would be calling Australia home for more than 19 months.
When coronavirus became international news in March last year the borders shut down, making travelling home to Timor-Leste and Vanuatu difficult for the seasonal workers still in Australia.
‘They call this place their home’
Although 19 months spans across a couple of melon harvest seasons, the workers were also able to work across Australia for fruit-picking seasons to keep busy.
For Mr McLaughlin, having these workers consistently return to his farm year-in-year-out meant they have become close friends, especially after this last stint.
“It actually gets a bit emotional putting them on the bus because they’re like family to us,” he said.
“They call this place their home.”