An idyllic beach village is being overrun by hundreds of migrant fruit pickers who locals claim are turning the coastal paradise into a ‘shanty town’.
Arrawarra, a village 30km north of Coffs Harbour on the NSW Mid North Coast, is a destination for surfers, caravanners, backpackers and visitors to its absolute waterfront holiday park.
It is regarded as a gem hidden among the more populous townships of the area, boasting a laid-back vibe, kangaroos hopping along the beach and pristine surf.
But an influx by hundreds of berry pickers over the past few years has left residents – whose local population is only between 50 and 100 people – concerned their slice of paradise is being destroyed.
The provider of the worker accommodation blasted the criticism as ‘lies and fabrication’ and accused locals of being prejudice against Pacific Islanders, who make up the bulk of the fruit pickers.
Shipping containers, rubbish and noisy buses moved into the holiday park that was once a haven for backpackers and surfers and now accommodates hundreds of fruit pickers
Rubbish in the creek at Little Arrawarra which gets a pounding during picking season when hundreds of workers fly in
In recent weeks, fruit pickers from Vanuatu have again begun arriving and hundreds amore are expected over the coming weeks to harvest crops during the winter berry season.
Locals told Daily Mail Australia that up to 400 pickers will be accommodated in Little Arrawarra’s holiday park and surrounds and bussed daily from around 4.45am the 17km up to Corindi, where Costa Berries has a 360-hectare farm.
Last year there were daily 37 trips in and out of pickers on mini-buses from the town to and from Corindi.
For the next six to nine months, pickers will be stationed at Little Arrawarra to complete the picking season for Costa, Australia’s leading berry producer.
But the influx has sparked numerous complaints about noisy early morning buses, mountains of rubbish, maggots in the local creek and aggressive drunken behaviour by the workers towards women.
Photographs show the area strewn with empty bottles and the picker accommodation such as dongas and shipping containers allegedly encroaching on their land and public areas.
One man filmed maggots which he said clung to his legs as he walked through the creek and another claimed that the local native wildlife, brush-turkeys, had been killed, cooked and eaten by farm workers.
Photographs from previous picking years show bottles, cans and food wrappers discarded in sand dunes, creeks and around what is normally an orderly holiday park.
Described as a ‘shanty town’ by some residents the holiday park is about to admit hundreds of seasonal berry pickers from Vanuatu
Little Arrawarra is a secret paradise on the NSW Mid North Coast that has had an infiltration of fruit pickers for the last few years, creating rubbish and pollution
Little Arrawarra has been described as a ‘hidden little gem’ and a paradise on the NSW MId North Coast
Drone footage shot last month shows the buses lined up on the property near shipping containers and dongers to accommodate fruit pickers
Drone footage shows the dongas – temporary accommodation structures – and shipping containers on land previously used as holiday accommodation and which Coffs Harbour City Council is now investigating to see if there has been any zoning issues.
Some locals also say they fear losing beach access from their properties as the holiday park with backpacker accommodation turned fruit picker town is on private land with no public access unless a person gains a permit.
The tenant and business operator of the holiday park and fruit picker accommodation, Nathan Folkes, told Daily Mail Australia he allowed permits on conditions and denied threatening anyone with closing off access.
Residents in the village were recently told they only had access to the beach between sunrise and sunset.
Mr Folkes described the current controversy as ‘a mud slinging match’ and suggested some locals with expensive real estate were prejudiced against Pacific Islanders.
Maggots filmed in Arrawarra Creek by a local who said when he walked through they clung to his legs
Map showing Little Arrawarra Beach and the 17km trip fruit pickers are taken in 37 buses daily to the Costa Berry farm at Corindi over a 6-9 month picking season
A local photographed this bin (left) over the Easter weekend, overflowing with empty beer bottles and rubbish, and the beach (right) and other areas are littered with bottles and cans each year the pickers have come
Described on his @thebeacharrawarra Instagram page as ‘the epic absolute beachfront location’ and ‘our perfect little hidden gem by the sea’, Little Arrawarra’s supposed ruin was just ‘lies and fabrication’ Mr Folkes said.
‘It’s been a really brutal witch hunt, those photos … are all old,’ he said and described the fruit pickers as ‘beautiful people’.
‘These are human beings, they work really hard, they are wonderful people. They are building a future for their families and countries and our nation depends on them to support the farm.’
The operator of a business called Mojo Surf, Mr Folkes said one woman in Little Arrawarra in particular had ‘zero empathy’ and only ‘worried about her property prices’.
Daily Mail Australia has seen a letter signed by 14 local owner residents who have expressed their concerns to the council, and who have supported a change.org petition to have Mr Folkes’ holiday park licence not renewed when it expires in August.
However the beach hamlet, which has just 52 houses, appears divided.
Another resident who has lived in Little Arrawarra for more than a decade, defended Mr Folkes and said there had been ‘a lot of jumping up and down, but that’s not representative of this place
‘It’s rundown, it’s rough around the edges, but it’s a work in progress,’ she said.
‘(Nathan Folkes) should be given a chance to follow his dream of building an eco beach resort.’
She said the fruit picker accommodation had been one of two options when ‘the bottom fell out of’ Mr Folkes’ surfing and backpacking business during the pandemic.
‘The other option was a halfway house for inmates out of Grafton jail and I know which one I’d prefer.’
The resident said the berry pickers’ presence in Little Arrawarra was ‘always a temporary thing’ and they would be housed elsewhere in the future.
Mr Folkes said he had decided to build accommodation for fruit pickers when Covid meant his backpacker and surf school business dwindled.
Little Arrawarra was known for the kangaroos which hopped along the beach (above), the waters which were pristine, and it was regarded as a hidden gem with a laid back vibe
‘The berry pickers appreciate the beauty of the location, it makes them feel at home coming from the islands.
‘It would be great to see some more support from government and other stakeholders for the Pacific Islanders.’
Drone footage filmed last month shows numerous buses parked near Arrawarra Creek and nearby dozens of shipping containers side by side, and dongas to house the pickers.
The photos of rubbish from previous years show what some locals expect to accumulate again, once the picking season is in full swing.
‘We have nothing against the Pacific Islanders who come here to work,’ one local told Daily Mail Australia, ‘but the accommodation, even the number of rubbish bins, for several hundred people is inadequate, we would say sub-standard.
‘Council needs to investigate this properly. The town of Little Arrawarra does not have the infrastructure to support a community of 450 plus seasonal workers for up to nine months.
‘We are not against the workers from Vanuatu. They are lovely people. It’s great to hear them on Sundays, singing hymns, and that’s a contrast to them filing off the buses each afternoon and looking at the ground.
‘It’s as if they have been told not to talk with town residents. If they do leave rubbish after relaxing from a long day fruit picking, we understand it’s not their fault or responsibility.
‘We also need to develop a plan for after hours security to patrol the park seven days per week, for the residents and the pickers’ sake.
Bottles and cans local say the migrant fruit pickers leave strewn around the beach and creek
Mojo Surf owner Nathan Folkes said the complaints about his fruit picker accommodation were ‘a witch hunt’ and he felt the attacks on housing workers from Vanuatu were ‘almost racial’
Vanuatans arrived on a bus into Little Arrawarra for the picking season, with hundreds more expected to be housed in dongas and shipping containers in the holiday park
‘Currently there is a shanty town of dongas erected essentially overnight on people’s fence lines. How much money is he making?’
Mr Folkes said everything on the park had been erected properly and told Daily Mail Australia that fruit pickers are charged half the backpacker rate of $40-$50 per night per bed, and that the numbers of pickers were ‘far less’ than had been estimated.
He said the pickers worked 40 hours a week and earned award or above award wages.
He said by December this year he hoped to turn the holiday park into his dream, an eco beach retreat, but did not rule out having more pickers in future seasons.
‘There’s an accommodation crisis in this country,’ he said, ‘we can’t and won’t discriminate against anyone.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Costa Berries and Coffs Harbour City Council for comment.