As heavy vehicles make their exodus, will grey nomads roll in?

Australia’s resources boom helped shape the travelling experience of grey nomads in many parts of the country … and the ‘bust’ is doing exactly the same in reverse.

Towns that were thriving just a few years ago are now struggling for survival. Many Outback roads that constantly shook with the weight of end­less convoys of giant trucks are quiet again. And caravan parks that were either full of ‘workers’, or were priced beyond the reach of travellers, are now looking for the grey nomad dollar once more.

Australia’s mining companies are shedding jobs quickly, with 50,000 workers losing their jobs in the last year. In the past week alone, mining giant Glencore has announced that 300-plus people will likely lose their jobs when it shuts down its West Wallsend coalmine in New South Wales next year. And Woodside Petroleum and Rio Tinto have both just announced they are to cut hundreds of jobs from their operations in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

The West, in particular, is now looking anxiously at ways it can attract more grey nomads and other travellers to help support the state’s changing economy.

“Interstate tourism has slumped since 2008,” admitted the chief executive of Tour­ism Council WA, Evan Hall. “Australians used to turn up to Western Australia in droves, but we developed a reputation for being expensive and didn’t invest enough in promoting our extraordinary regional destinations.”

In towns like Karratha, which will feel the impact of mining job cuts heavily, the mayor, Pe­ter Long, says he has noticed a sombre mood among resi­dents and that local businesses are starting to feel the pinch. Karratha is not alone.

However, it was a situation that was foreseen. A report into the possible effect of a mining ‘bust’ in the West warned last year that regions like the Pilbara could be left littered with ghost towns if they didn’t develop critical infrastructure and diversify.

Report author and Curtin University researcher, Jemma Green, predicted tourism would be crucial and said the Pilbara could not afford to be viewed as just a ‘giant quarry’.

“There are a number of good quality roads missing to get to key areas, and if you looked at a tourist guide book, it would tell you just to bypass the Pilbara altogether,” she said. “It’s also very expensive for tourists.”

However, times are changing.

“Tourism wasn’t really possible when the caravan parks were full of construction workers,” said Pilbara MP Brendon Grylls at the time. “But now I think with the market normal­ising, t here’s great hope for us.”



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