Meet the mango men

Meet the mango men, the Pacific Islanders who've flown in to help our farmers

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HAPPY HELPERS: Kevin Vira left his young family in Vanuatu for the opportunity to make some money and help in our harvest crisis.

HAPPY HELPERS: Kevin Vira left his young family in Vanuatu for the opportunity to make some money and help in our harvest crisis.

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Meet the international visitors who have been working hard to rescue Katherine's rich mango harvest.

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KEVIN Vira left his young family in Vanuatu to travel thousands of kilometres to work in extreme heat and help rescue the Northern Territory's mango harvest.

And he couldn't be happier about it.

"For me to be honest I am thankful," Kevin said during a rare break inside a Katherine mango packing shed.

"I am lucky to be a part of it."

COVID-19 has locked up the borders and made international travel a pandemic no-no.

Even interstate workers were blocked until July, and many have avoided leaving their home states because they can't go back.

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The backpacker backbone of the harvest workforce are almost no where to be seen, leaving the mango industry with a $100 million dilemma.

Enter stage left, the Pacific solution.

Desperate Northern Territory farmers paid to fly more than 300 volunteers from Vanuatu - one planeload in September and the other in October.

Then they paid again to house them in Darwin's quarantine facility for a fortnight before they could safely ferry them out to farms - first in Darwin where the mango harvest begins, then down to Katherine, the nation's biggest mango producer.

Kevin Vira works at the Nutrano Produce packing plant in Katherine, working hard to package the local fruit before it's distributed around Australia.

Mr Vira realises how fortunate and unusual his situation is to be an international traveler during the pandemic.

FRESH: Most of Australia's mangoes are grown either in the Northern Territory or Queensland.

FRESH: Most of Australia's mangoes are grown either in the Northern Territory or Queensland.

Vanuatu has a tropical climate and warm weather, but the recent heatwave in Katherine has still been a hard slog for the 33-year-old.

For weeks on end temperatures in Katherine have stayed stubbornly above 40 degrees.

"My country is tropical, my country is not this type of hot, this is very hot for me", he said.

Luckily the packing plant is air conditioned.

But the build up heat hasn't stopped Mr Vira and his team from taking full advantage of their chance to work in Australia, with many saving money for their families back in the Pacific.

"We came here for work ... (it) gives us opportunity to save money to have money for our families"

"I have one kid, he is three-years-old, my king," he said.

TEAM: The Vanuatuans in Katherine pose for a group photo. They are off to help out in Tasmania next.

TEAM: The Vanuatuans in Katherine pose for a group photo. They are off to help out in Tasmania next.

Mr Vira is a seasonal worker and this is the third year he has returned to work on Katherine's mangoes.

However this year is different, because he's got transport and finally has an opportunity to check out the region's attractions.

"Now I can see sights, previously I just came here for work ... work then back home," he said.

"This year's the first time I went to the hot springs here so I'm really glad."

What comes next for the Vanuatuans? A long trip down south to Tasmania where more produce needs harvesting in December.

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The story Meet the mango men first appeared on Katherine Times.

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