The ongoing drought is hitting many small communities in western Queensland pretty hard … but it is also bringing a new awareness of – and appreciation for – the economic and social benefits that grey nomads bring.
And with the weather bureau predicting that the El Nino weather phenomenon – which brings drier weather – will continue into next year, that bond between struggling rural towns and travelling caravanners and motorhomers is only likely to grow.
In the tiny sheep town of Ilfracombe near Longreach, for example, one of the town’s two dams is dry and Mayor Joe Owens estimates that, if it does not rain soon, the town will be out of water in about four months. He said Longreach’s Thomson River stopped flowing in March and all Ilfracombe residents were on water restrictions.
After three years of drought, the town’s Wellshot Hotel publican, Ross Given, said grey nomads were saving many businesses.
“Business here trebles from about April to October with the grey nomads,” Mr Given told the Courier-Mail newspaper. “People from Victoria and NSW come out here to avoid the freeze. Our weather at this time of year is just beautiful.”
It’s a similar story in Charleville where the long drought and the decline in the shearing industry has hammered local businesses.
Clothing boutique owner Carmel Hunter was recently forced to open her store just three days a week, and take a part-time in tourism which brings her into contact with many grey nomads.
She told the ABC that the work had helped her to feel positive again about the future of the town.
“I’ve never worked in that industry before but it’s wonderful – all the grey nomads coming through,” she said. “You don’t realise how much money they pump into our community … it’s really opened my eyes to what is really happening out there.”
And from a personal point of view, she is enjoying having a laugh and a joke with visitors instead of fretting about the lack of custom at her clothing store.
“I add a bit of fun to whatever I do so the grey nomads love that and I think it’s just great,” she told the ABC. “I never thought I’d buy a caravan and now I’m looking at all the different types!”
And, with meteorologists predicting the ongoing drought may end up being worse than similar events that occurred in 2002 and 2009, Ilfracombe Mayor Joe Owens – like many others – is taking a philosophical approach.
“Everyone’s doing it tough,” he said. “All we can do is wait.”