Robert Vaughan and Carol Hartley took up volunteer jobs on St Bees Island where they say they were promised food and board in exchange for work.
Robert Vaughan and Carol Hartley took up volunteer jobs on St Bees Island where they say they were promised food and board in exchange for work. John McCutcheon

How an island dream turned into a nightmare

ROBERT Vaughan and Carol Hartley thought they had signed themselves up for their dream jobs in paradise. Instead they landed themselves in what they claim turned out to be several weeks in hell.

"A mate of mine told me about this job he saw online and he sent me the details. I took the job to my job co-ordinator at Ideal Placements.

"She checked it out and said it seemed legitimate," Mr Vaughan said.

The job Mr Vaughan refers to was advertised on February 28, 2019 in a Facebook post entitled 'Volunteers Needed' on the What's Happening in and around Mackay group.

Initially sparking a fair amount of interest, the post resulted in more than 30 comments and 60 shares. The author of the post was Ran Tian also known as 'Doreen'.

The positions advertised were for 'house/public area cleaner', 'electrician' and 'handyman'.

 

St Bees Island, off Mackay.
St Bees Island, off Mackay. Shakira Sellen

Mr Vaughan became the successful applicant for the handyman position and Ms Hartley the cleaner.

"We left for St Bees on April 8, 2019 and we thought it was going to be really great because it was volunteer work in exchange for free accommodation and food on a beautiful island," Mr Vaughan said.

"There was supposed to be running water and electricity, refrigeration but when we got over to the island there was no running water, the toilets didn't flush - no power, no refrigeration.

Ms Hartley also said the condition of the accommodation on the island was sub-standard. Her role on the island was to clean out the buildings and she said the job was massive.

"There were eskies full of rotten meat filled with maggots and just years and years of mess to clean up," Ms Hartley said.

When Mr Vaughan stepped on some coral while pulling a boat onto shore, they said things got even worse.

"I became quite ill and ended up getting cellulitis and I had to get airlifted off the island on Easter Sunday by RACQ Rescue," he said.

Ms Hartley said she was then left behind on St Bees for an additional seven days with caretaker, Glen Saddler and during this time conditions became considerably more difficult for her.

"While I was there on my own we lost access to water as the valve for the rainwater tank broke," she said.

"It was at this point I had to collect rainwater from the gutters of the buildings on the island, but the gutters were filthy and I wasn't about to drink the brown water.

"I eventually caught rainwater out of a drainpipe and filled water bottles with that water for drinking."

It was also during this time Ms Hartley ran out of medication she takes for anxiety.

She said she asked Mr Saddler to take her back to Mackay on the island's boat but he refused, citing the price of fuel as too expensive.

 

Beautiful views overlooking St Bees from Langton Point at Keswick Island.
Beautiful views overlooking St Bees from Langton Point at Keswick Island. Rebina Criddle

Ms Hartley's withdrawal symptoms from a pharmaceutical she had taken for 30 years became so extreme that she said Mr Saddler dialled 000 and soon after RACQ CQ Rescue made another trip to St Bees, this time to remove Ms Hartley from the island.

RACQ CQ Rescue CEO Ian Rowan confirmed there were multiple rescues from the island during this time period.

"RACQ CQ Rescue was tasked to two medical evacuations from St Bees Island within days of each other over Easter," he said.

Ms Hartley and Mr Vaughan have now found themselves homeless, having stopped a lease before leaving for the island.

The two of them have stayed with friends and family in Mackay and are now staying with Ms Hartley's sister in Caloundra.

Mrs Hartley said they wanted to share their story to prevent others from finding themselves in a similar situation.

"That post is still up and someone else might be applying for those jobs, I'd hate for anyone to go through what we did," she said.

A spokeswoman for Ideal Placements said: "We did not act on behalf of the employer and we did not place the employee in this role".

The caretaker of St Bees island, Glen Saddler, was contacted for comment but declined to comment.

He suggested the Daily Mercury "call his manager Doreen".

Ran Tian, also known as 'Doreen', was contacted by the Daily Mercury. While she requested to answer questions via email, she had not responded at time of publication.



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