WHEN Rosie Ayliffe answered her door in Derbyshire, England, on the evening of the 23rd of August 2016 to see two solemn policemen, her heart sank.
The news was any parent’s worst nightmare, that her only child and 20-year-old daughter Mia Ayliffe-Chung had been killed in Australia.
“They weren’t allowed to tell me anything other than that she had been fatally wounded,” says Rosie of the shattering news.
“I had to then phone the foreign office to find out what happened,” she says.
Rosie later found that her daughter had been fatally stabbed by a fellow resident, French national Smail Ayad, at the Home Hill Backpackers, where Mia had been staying in Australia to do her 88 days of farm work.
A friend of Mia’s, another British traveller staying at the Home Hill residence, was also killed coming to her aid and another, the manager of the hostel, had been stabbed in the leg trying to help her.
The travellers had been working to extend their 417 working holiday visa’s and 29-year- old Ayad, now held in a psychiatric prison, had reportedly developed an infatuation with Mia in the lead up to the brutal attack.
Rosie Ayliffe says that when she first heard the news her daughter had been murdered, she was in complete shock and then later denial, focusing her immediate attention on organising the funeral.
“I didn’t cry, I just got into organisational mode. And I didn’t feel anything, I just felt numb. I didn’t really believe it,” says Rosie.
“To me, she was still out in Australia. I was still checking my messages. The first time it really hit me was when I was on the plane to Australia to have her cremated. I just cried for most of the journey, and it was a long journey,” she says.
“After that, I spent a lot of time just grieving; I didn’t really do anything, just remembering her.”
In the aftermath of Mia’s murder, Rosie, a teacher and established writer began a weekly column for the Independent in the UK, allowing readers to follow her story.
“It had an overwhelming response. It meant so much to a lot of people who were able to follow my journey. Strangers were saying that it had helped them with their own grief,” says Rosie.
She has since published a book detailing her experiences, Far From Home, which was released at the end of March this year.
Rosie says the process of writing the book was a devastating but ultimately cathartic way to preserve Mia’s memory, providing an outlet for her grief and a platform to investigate the Australian visa system she says failed her daughter.
“It destroyed me. It was really painful, and I knew it would be; I knew it would be a really hard journey. There were days where I just sat there weeping as I went right back into Mia’s childhood,” she says.
“For me, this means Mia is memorialised. She’s not someone that nobody can talk about anymore. She’s someone who will be remembered through the book,” says Rosie.
Following her daughter’s death, the author began to investigate the conditions faced by other travellers undergoing their farm work in Australia, horrified by the stories she began to uncover and the systemic exploitation occurring under the federal governments watch.
Her advocacy comes among allegations of unsafe working conditions, where backpackers are often underpaid and put in vulnerable situations, or in some cases, exposed to sexual and psychological abuse.
She’s pushing for reform and calling for a Royal Commission to investigate the treatment of backpackers doing their farm work in Australia, and the systems in place to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
“What really stood out was the lack of empathy and care shown to backpackers,” says Rosie.
“It’s the way that young people are often put in dangerous situations, and sometimes it’s just ignorance on the part of the employer. It’s a completely different culture over there, and people need to be acclimatised; some people just drop dead from heat exhaustion.
“Another young woman whose life was ruined was a pianist who lost both her hands in an abattoir.”
“The stories just kept coming in, and I felt so personally attached to each one of them,” says Rosie.
“The pressure of the 88 days creates this power balance and an unsafe environment for workers.”
She says that in the lead up to Mia’s death, requests to move rooms away from the man who would become her killer were denied.
“Mia felt like she was in a hostile environment and that she didn’t feel like she could go to the hostel owner.
She went to her employer and said that she had asked to move rooms and was not allowed to. If that’s the case, it’s a lack of duty of care,” says Rosie.
“I campaigned against the system. We’re trying to create change, and that change needs to happen on a much wider scale, not just in the Burdekin,” she says.
“I feel like I’ve done the right thing. From the minute Mia died, I felt that it was imperative. I don’t know why that was, but I felt like I didn’t have a choice. I feel like I’ve done my bit.”