Byron’s stranded travellers finding their way

Paul Bibby

Vicky Lebedeva was 17,000 kilometres from home and nearly seven months pregnant when the COVID-19 crisis hit.

The risks of long-distance travel, especially for pregnant women, meant a trip back to the UK was out of the question.

Vicky Lebedeva, her partner and new baby. Image: Jeff Dawson

So, she and her partner had no choice but to welcome their little girl into the world in Byron Bay.

But life has been far from easy.

‘We’re extremely grateful to be here, but it’s been a bit of a situation financially,’ Ms Lebedeva said, while nursing her newborn at Byron Hospital last week.

‘As travellers, we don’t get any government assistance, our savings are all being spent on having a decent place to live, and there’s basically no hospitality work.’

Eventually, Ms Lebedeva went to the Byron Community Centre (BCC) for help, where she was greeted with warm smiles and a box full of fresh food, household staples and personal items.

And she was far from alone. Hundreds of international students and travellers on working holiday visas have been stranded in the Byron Shire with little or no financial means to support themselves, and no way of getting home.

Centre management says a large proportion of the 100 people who lined up for food boxes last week were international students and travellers on working holiday visas.

‘A lot of them have been here a long time,’ the BCC’s general manager, Louise O’Connell, said.

‘There are families, individuals, people who’ve always had a steady income, and who’ve made an important contribution to our community.

Record meals served

‘But now they’re dipping into their savings, and those funds are drying up.’

With the economic impacts of the crisis likely to extend significantly beyond the health effects, the centre is expecting demand for its services to increase further over the next few months.

‘We provided 1,000 meals to people last week – that’s a record,’ Ms O’Connell said.

Appealing for help

‘We think this will drag out for months, and that’s why we keep appealing for help.

‘We’ve been fortunate to have some major donors, but we need more funds to help us put together those food boxes.’

One grateful recipient of a food box was Colombian national, Seb, who was made redundant by the COVID-19 crisis and then as a result lost his accommodation at a Byron backpackers.

The young man said he was currently sleeping rough and had really felt the drop in temperature sleeping on the beach.

‘We’re seeing people like Seb all the time,’ Ms O’Connell said.

‘This is a whole new experience for us. And for them.’

To help, visit

Cap: New mum, Vicky Lebedeva, with new dad Robin, and baby Ayana. Photo Jeff Dawson

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6 responses to “Byron’s stranded travellers finding their way”

  1. Shamana Marshall says:

    The government, as with the bushfires, did not think through every eventuality. Surely this young couple can fly home now. If people dwindle their funds just to survive they may not be able to purchase what I expect will be, expensive airfares. They will be dependent on charity, increasing the load on them. Hundreds of backpackers stranded, your article said, really?

  2. Delta says:

    I don’t get it: if they are UK citizens traveling abroad for 1 year, surely they still have a bank account in UK and they could claim social help, benefit from Boris government, no?

  3. Sevens says:

    The virus had no decision on her staying she was 7 months pregnant and not going to fly anyway.

  4. Cas says:

    Hi Delta
    Hopefully maybe able to but the UK has a different system to ours
    Ask a UK citizen if they can?

  5. There is one sentence that mentions” they are dipping into their savings, which are now drying up “
    Aren’t they lucky to have savings whilst so many of us live from week to fortnight, dreading the extra expense of car repairs and tyres.

  6. BornxRaised says:

    The government will now start to look at how many work visas and student visas they are granting, which will benefit all of us. 1 in 10 of the Australian workforce are on work visas yet we ‘had’ 5%+ unemployment. These are strategies governments use to keep wages down, casual and partial employment high and taxes and growth up. Now they’re leaving them stranded with no support. I wish you all the best and you are lucky you are in a community like Byron.

    This is the result of decades of poor leadership. They keep following the ideas of John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman which are decades old. Technology has advanced a lot since then, so should economics.

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