Couple ‘adopts’ travellers

French travellers Joann Heckel and Daniel Schwebel with hosts Sarah Wickham and Tully Smith. (Damjan Janevski). 208557_03

By Alesha Capone

Sanctuary Lakes couple Tully Smith and Sarah Wickham have opened their home to a pair of international travellers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Smith said he was shocked to discover how many foreign visitors and students had become “stuck” in Australia due to the pandemic travel bans and a lack of international flights after a colleague told him about the Adopt a Backpacker VIC Facebook page.

The page aims to connect travellers in need of a place to stay with Australians who can help them out.

Mr Smith said after he and Ms Wickham were “inundated” with messages from travellers after posting that they had a free room on the Facebook page.

First up, after some FaceTime meetings and checks to ensure they would not be carrying the coronavirus, two Argentinians moved in with Mr Smith and Ms Wickham.

Mr Tully said he and Ms Wickham had become “friends for life” with the Argentinians– a vet and university graduate.

Mr Smith said after the Argentinians moved out after securing work and French couple Joann Heckel and Daniel Schwebel moved in.

Before coming to Sanctuary Lakes, Ms Heckel and Mr Schwebel worked on a farm in Colac for more than a month, ensuring they had not developed the coronavirus.

Mr Smith said he and Ms Wickham had decided to open their home to travellers because there were “lots of stories of genuine need” among them.

“The new food is also amazing – we ate Argentinian food for three weeks and now we’ve been eating beautiful French meals,” Mr Smith said.

Ms Heckel said while she and Mr Schwebel had been lucky, many of their fellow travellers had lost jobs on farms or in hospitality due to the pandemic but still had to pay for their accommodation.

But she said that with campsites and caravan parks closed across the country, this was hard for many travellers, who were now reliant on Australians extending them a “helping hand”.

Mr Smith said he would urge other Wyndham residents to consider helping travellers in need of a place to stay.

“We would encourage everyone to extend good old Aussie welcoming hospitality to travellers,” he said.

Details: Adopt a Backpacker VIC on Facebook