The simple ritual that tormented mum after daughter's backpacker murder

·News Editor
·7-min read

A mum has revealed one of the hardest moments she faced as she dealt with unimaginable grief after her daughter was murdered.

British backpacker Mia Ayliffe-Chung was travelling around Australia on the trip of a lifetime when she was stabbed to death in 2016 in a "frenzied" attack by a French man staying at her hostel in Home Hill, about 98 kilometres southeast of Townsville.

The 20-year-old had travelled to the rural town in northeastern Queensland to undergo mandatory farm work for 88 days so she could extend her visa for another year.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung poses in front of a blue lake.
Mia Ayliffe-Chung was in Queensland completing mandatory farm work when she died. Source: Supplied

She had been at the hostel for just a week when Smail Ayad, then 29, stabbed her and another British backpacker, Tom Jackson, 30, to death. Mr Jackson was attempting to save Ms Ayliffe-Chung’s life.

Mia's mother Rosie has now released a book, Far from Home: A true story of death, loss and a mother’s courage, detailing her grief of losing her precious daughter and her own fight in the wake of her death.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung's death rocks family

"Mia's death was the hardest thing to accept," Ms Ayliffe told Yahoo News Australia.

"Mia was everything to me ... When Mia first went out to Australia I said to my then partner, now husband, I wouldn’t survive if she died – I wouldn’t be able to outlive her."

Ms Ayliffe said the first Christmas without her daughter hit her hard as she discovered Mia had plans to come home to the UK to surprise her – but she never made it.

"I think if she had been living at home when she died I would have felt her physical loss more," Ms Ayliffe said.

"I went into denial and it helped me a lot at the beginning.

"To me she was still out in Australia and I had to keep reminding myself she was dead."

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In her book, Ms Ayliffe described a simple Christmas ritual that saw her overwhelmed with grief.

"Anyone with children knows how every bauble brings back memories of Christmases past, and Mia and I had bought and made new ones each year," she wrote.

"The tree dressing was such an important ritual to her that once, when I had had the effrontery to start without her, she stripped everything off and started from scratch.

"The first Christmas without her, I tried to buy a new tree decoration at the local market and was overcome by a wave of grief and tears.

"How could a little ritual I used to love so much have become such a torment?"

Ms Ayliffe said knowing Mia had planned the surprise return home, she had to suppress images of her appearing at the door.

Mia Ayliffe-Chung poses for a photo.
Mia Ayliffe-Chung was stabbed to death at a hostel in Queensland. Source: Supplied

"By now I tried to start my day with three yoga salutes to the sun, and a few minutes meditation in front of the Buddha seemed to calm my heart and soul for the day ahead," she wrote.

"I would commune with Mia a fair bit too, just by focusing on her when I was making decisions, to hear the voice of reason that used to plague my every move when she was alive.

"By Christmas I think I had accepted that Mia was actually dead, that she wouldn't be coming through that door any time ever."

Rosie Ayliffe's quest to memorialise her daughter

Once the new year rolled around, Ms Ayliffe said in honour of Mia, her resolution for 2017 was to "reclaim my life".

"When someone said to me that they hoped 2017 would be better than 2016, it did jar a little ... but I was now committed to just that," she wrote in her book.

"It's not that I expected to conquer grief, or that I'd get over Mia's death, because I just wouldn't.

"It was part of me and it would always overcome me at odd and uncomfortable moments.

"But life is a gift, and potentially all too transient, and we have a duty to our loved ones, alive and dead, to live it to the full."

Mia Ayliffe-Chung bites into a piece of fruit.
Mia Ayliffe-Chung was planning to surprise her mother for Christmas. Source: Facebook

Ms Ayliffe said in her book after fending off thoughts of suicide and feelings of depression, she decided to memorialise her daughter in every way she could and started campaigning to change Australia's farm work system that she believed had a role in her daughter's death.

Mia had travelled to the Home Hill hostel to complete 88 days of required farm work so she could stay in the country.

After travelling to Australia in the wake of her daughter's death, Ms Ayliffe became aware of horrific stories of abuse and financial and sexual exploitation of backpackers on farms, and the lack of regulation around farm work in the country.

"Mostly I want people in Australia to know what's happening out there and how dangerous it is for young people," Ms Ayliffe told Yahoo News Australia.

"I really had no idea ... and I think that's true for most people in the UK."

Call for royal commission into farm work scheme

Ms Ayliffe said she felt the farm work scheme to obtain the 417 visa was more about conning young people than providing a workforce.

"I was obviously grieving but putting the energy into a campaign for change... I was struggling personally and emotionally and sometimes that was overwhelming but I had a focus that took me through," she said.

"I think I wanted to make things better for other people so they didn’t have to go through the same or similar.

"If Mia hadn't of been there she wouldn't have died ... I'm not saying Mia was murdered because she was doing farm work but I did hear about young people who died in the field, and we want to prevent that happening.

"It doesn't seem right you go on a working holiday and give your life to Australian agriculture."

Rosie Ayliffe takes her dog for a walk.
Rosie Ayliffe has been tirelessly campaigning for change to Australia's farm work scheme. Source: Supplied

After five years of tirelessly campaigning since her daughter's death, Ms Ayliffe is now calling for a royal commission to highlight the problems with the farm work scheme.

A Modern Slavery Act was introduced in 2019 – which recognises a need to tackle a number of issues including sexual slavery and forced labour – however Ms Ayliffe believes this is just the beginning.

"My view is that there is still a pressing need for Australia to create an enforcement agency, along the lines of the UK's Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority, to provide a one-stop reporting system for all victims of exploitation and modern slavery, with officers with powers of arrest working closely with the police," she wrote in her book.

"Punishments need to be increased so that the crime of exploitation is no longer worth the risk for perpetrators, and a manslaughter charge where culpability is proven for a workplace death needs to be introduced."

Far from Home: A true story of death, loss and a mother’s courage is available to buy from March 30.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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