With many Outback towns struggling to cope with a devastating drought, a sluggish rural economy, and a mining downturn, the positive impact grey nomads can have in the bush has rarely been so apparent … or so appreciated.
Outback Queensland Tourism General Manager, Peter Homan, said the drought in central Western Queensland had forced ringers, shearers and roustabouts to leave the Outback, and hit shops hard.
“Due to destocking of proper-ties because of the drought, tourism is now the largest industry in the Outback,” he said. “Grey nomads are the lifeblood of the tourism industry in the bush, and the impact of the visitors cannot be overplayed.”
One of the biggest worries for towns in drought-affected areas are inaccurate ‘horror stories’ about its impact. Contrary to some rumours, Mr Homan insists that all towns have ample water supply for the visitors to shower and wash with.
Grey nomads like Eddie W are only too aware of the pain being felt in the bush, and of what travellers can do to help. “Stop off, check out these small outback towns and provide a little financial support even if it is only to buy a cold drink and a snack,” he said. “We have found locals in these small towns very friendly, accommodating and appreciative of whatever money we spend.”
While Eddie and his wife make a conscious decision to support small towns, many caravanners still bypass them. During a week staying in the tiny Queensland town of Pentland, Eddie said only two other vans stopped overnight, while dozens drove by.
And it’s not just by what they spend that grey nomads can make a difference. Suzanne Lees who runs a mixed farming business in the Lightning Ridge area is highly appreciative of any traveller who spares time to lend a hand with ‘those little jobs that always get left’.
“We are in our third year of drought and we have had to reduce staff as our main income came from crops, but it’s been too dry to plant in the last two years,” she said. “All our finances are invested in buying feed for our stock to generate some income to keep the banks at bay.”
But a town doesn’t have to be in the midst of a drought to desperately need the support of grey nomads. The NSW Riverlands town of Coleambally has just launched an initiative to encourage more grey nomads to turn off the Kidman Way to see the sights, support local businesses, play a round of golf, and enjoy free camping.
“You are assured of a warm welcome in Coleambally,” said Steve Lothian, from the town’s golf club.
It’s a message which is echoed in towns and villages across Australia’s vast Outback as they face up to an ever more uncertain future.