Heather Ewart travels to the Central Queensland town of Biloela for BACK ROADS

Biloela recently hit the headlines in its bid to stop a Sri Lankan Tamil family from being deported.

The campaign to “Bring them back to Bilo” reignited a nation-wide conversation about asylum seekers and immigration detention.

It took some locals by surprise that the industrial town, a traditionally conservative heartland, was so outspoken in its support of the family who had lived in Biloela for only four years.

“There are a lot of people who would like to see them here – this is their home!” says local Marie Austin, who knew the family well.

“The town was in shock.”

Biloela, known by locals as ‘Bilo’, is a place where people look out for one another and a hard work ethic trumps ethnicity, nationality or religion.

Doctor Richard Tan is a great example. Still a practising GP at 79 years young, Dr Tan has delivered more than 2000 Biloela babies.

Heather also meets Doctor GB Singh, the medical director of the Biloela Hospital. GB moved to ‘Bilo’ from remote Western Australia, after migrating from India back in 2000.

Of the ten GPs in ‘Bilo’, the majority were born overseas.

Other industries in Biloela also have international workers. The local meatworks has a long history of employing workers on skilled migrant visas.

Refugees and workers recruited from Asia, South America and the Pacific make up the bulk of the 420 staff. Jane comes from rural China and works at the meatworks – when she’s not singing in the church choir or learning ‘Aussie’ English from her friend Marie.

Shire Councillor Pat Brennan is also a blow-in – he’s only been in town for 40 years. “I love Biloela. Everyone who wants to come here gets an opportunity if they want to take that opportunity in both hands good on ’em – they’ll succeed.”

In short, if you’re willing, you’re very welcome in Biloela.

Back Roads – Monday 29th June at 8pm on ABC


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  1. Worst travel documentary by Heather Ewart – maybe not her fault, she may have had no say.Most of the presentation was political that involved ILLEGAL immigrants!!!! That was not mentioned. I was so disappointed that I turned the TV OFF
    PS – hope the ABC stops presenting ‘one sided’ views eg Insiders, Q&A – debate is most welcome

  2. Please dont let this entire cover represent Biloela. The town is way more than just the meatworks and the small international population, not that they aren’t part of the whole which keeps the town alive, and they’ve obviously nice folks.

    But to mention Dr Tan of all people being focused on…come on. The man has been avoided by locals for years for his malpractice and is finally getting sued by someone with the money. Years ago the hospital there had to send a boy to Rockhampton first, then to Brisbane Children’s Hospital just for a broken arm.
    Next thing you know, there’s going to be more disgruntled old farmers who are uncomfortable about their hometown being taken over by foreigners who are hopefully there legally at the very least.

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