Sean McGrory-White, backpacker, 23, working at an Orange Farm in Renmark, South Australia, during the Australian lockdown

A 23-year-old backpacker from Buckinghamshire had a “scary” time in Australia as he was trapped in a foreign country and rarely allowed to leave his hostel when the country went into lockdown.

Sean McGrory-White headed Down Under in January 2020 after planning the trip for years.

Sean McGrory-White, 23, backpacker from Buckinghamshire

He said: “I’d dreamt of this trip for years and I’ve always wanted to travel. After working since leaving sixth form, I’d finally saved enough money to travel to Australia.

“I wanted to have the Australian experience people had told me about from when they went travelling as it sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Sean did get a once in a lifetime experience – just not the one he bargained for as within six weeks of arriving in Australia, coronavirus forced the world into lockdown, leaving Sean trapped in a foreign country unable to find work due to all hospitality businesses being forced to close.

“I was barely allowed to leave the hostel”


He said: “I was having the time of my life travelling around Australia with a group of people I had met and then all of a sudden I was barely allowed to leave the hostel. It was a very scary time and a few people I was travelling with went home.”

Despite his struggles he was “determined to stay and make the best of a bad situation.”

Most of Australia’s lockdown measures mirrored the UK’s:

  • People had to work from home;
  • Schools were closed;
  • people were allowed out only for essential reasons.

However, Australia was much stricter when enforcing lockdown rules and many UK backpackers were met with hostility as some were spotted flouting Australia’s rules.

They were told by Alan Tudge, acting immigration minister at the time, that if lockdown rules were breached they would be kicked out of the country.

The government told UK backpackers who were following the rules they were more than welcome to stay in Australia and to find employment to help the country through the pandemic and work towards its recovery.

Sean began agricultural work in Renmark, South Australia at Renmark and Paringa backpackers orange farm.

AUDIO: Sean McGrory-White discussing his experience working on an orange farm during the pandemic.

Although Australia’s restrictions have started to lift and life is slowly returning back to normal, international borders remain closed, meaning finding a flight back home is proving difficult as only a few airlines are providing flights to the UK at a reduced capacity.

This has left Sean’s mother, Mary McGrory, 53, worried about when she will see her son again.

She said: “Sean has been gone for over a year now and we’ve been trying to book him a flight home in May but so far we have had no luck as flights has either been full or cancelled.”

Despite not knowing when her son will be back, Mary was happy he stayed in Australia: “although it wasn’t the experience he went out there for, it was arguably better as it taught him things he never would have learned under normal circumstances.”

If you want to leave Australia and return to the UK, these airlines are offering flights at a reduced capacity during May:

  • Qatar
  • Malaysian Airlines
  • Qantas

These flights are being operated for repatriation purposes and services on these flights will be significantly reduced, including the following:

  • limited onboard food and bottles of water;
  • no in-flight entertainment;
  • seat selection is unavailable.