Fighting back from drought and bushfire trauma

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Tenterfied wants grey nomads after bushfires
Barry and Di are hoping that business will pick up

Even before summer arrived, bushfires and the threat of bushfires dominated news headlines for weeks.

Like everyone else, grey nomads have seen dramatic images of fires threatening entire communities, and been told of the vast swathes of bushland being scorched.

However, when the firefighters and the news crews retreat, these communities – even those which manage to avoid the nightmare scenario – can still be left counting the cost.

Tenterfield in New South Wales is a classic example. The first bushfire came near the town on September 6, and there have been a steady stream of threats ever since.

Barry and Di O’Connor have owned the Tenterfield Lodge and Caravan Park since 2015. The couple, now in their early 60s, initially spent a lot of time, energy and money changing the focus of the park to cater to grey nomads rather than fruit pickers and backpackers.

After three years, they felt that they had positioned the park to exactly where they wanted it and then came the drought … and the bushfires. The couple says sensationalised media coverage has since seen grey nomads and others staying away from Tenterfield in their droves.

And, of course, Tenterfield is just one of the many rural towns feeling the same economic pain.

“There are four caravan parks in Tenterfield, and all are feeling the pinch,” said Barry. “I do not have their occupancy figures for the period September 5 to November 9, but I am sure that they are similar to ours … with cabin bookings down 50%, and powered sites down from 60% to 35%.”

The O’Connors say that even with a couple of caravan club bookings which did not cancel, their takings were down $25,000 for September and October alone … and they fear the trend will continue until mid-next year or longer.

“In this period, we have averaged five or so sites per night of the 28 sites we have available and with most people only staying one night,” said Barry. “In the same period last year, we averaged 20 sites per night with many guests staying two to three nights.”

Of course, this reduced visitation has had a far wider impact.

“The impact on the town is serious with those shops, cafes, hotels, petrol stations, and other businesses reporting significant decreases in sales,” said Barry. “Many are reducing staff hours and staff numbers, meaning less income that can be spent in town.”

Barry says that – as they have elsewhere in the country – the grey nomads who have visited Tenterfield have done so to try to help the town recover.

“We in the bush are a hardy lot who know that tough times don’t last but tough people do,” said Barry. “We are not looking for a handout, we are looking for hand up, and the best thing anyone can do is to come and spend a dollar or two in country towns … they will welcome you with open arms.”

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3 Responses to Fighting back from drought and bushfire trauma

  1. The Queensland Retreat Caravan group hold Get Togethers twice a year in support of the Country towns in Qld that are suffering the inpact of drougth, Our recently get together was held at the Kalbar showgrounds were we had 40 members attend while we were there we took up a collection for the RSF and raised $265 dollars plus we spent money at the local butchers,hotel,Kalbar Tuckerbox,the local supermart and all of the Scenic Rim, in March we will be having a event in Stanthorpe were we hope to raise more money for this struggling town, then we will go to Boulia in July for another event

  2. Thet are a Lovely Couple . We stayed there on purpose to put money back into the town .It us an eady walk into the Town.

  3. We have stayed at a caravan park in Tenterfield some 3 years ago.We were researching our family history which centred around Tenterfield back in the later part of 1800. Unfortunately we were unable to gain much knowledge of the Rodgers family who had settled inthis now famous town thanks to Peter Allen. Not sure which park, but the owners were very helpful, and proud of their country town.
    Will drop in next time to say hi again.
    Johnnie Rodgers

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