Bushfires’ heavy toll on local trade
■ Businesses struggle as tourists stay clear
A SIXTY per cent loss in trade – that’s the estimated financial cost to Mansfield businesses following the State of Disaster declaration by the State Government in the face of the bushfire emergency.
With tourists evacuated from peak camping areas, and many more choosing to to stay away, the town has been left empty of its normally bustling summer trade.
From the supermarkets to cafés, tourism operators to accommodation businesses; all have been left with cancelled bookings, surplus stock and – in some cases – no word as to when they will be able to begin trading again.
Danny Davis from Mansfield BP said it was the quietest she had ever seen Mansfield.
“There’s just not a lot of people in the town – and because there isn’t, we are just not getting the customers coming through – it’s school holidays and there just isn’t anyone around,” she said.
“Normally they are here camping and fishing – over summer we have the water sports bringing people, but they haven’t been coming because of the bushfires – the ones that were already here have been evacuated and a lot of the local trade have gone back to work.
“We’ve got that much stock build-up at the moment that we just aren’t having to do orders – it’s affecting everyone all around, from suppliers to the businesses in town.”
The Mansfield Travellers Lodge has had guests cancel across the month of January.
“It’s dead,” manager Julie Webster explained.
“All the horse ride bookings have cancelled, because they aren’t running, and other people have cancelled because of the fires – they just aren’t coming up, and there is nothing we can do.”
Corey Ludeman is one of the trail rider operators unable to get back into the High Country, resulting in not only a loss of business for himself, but also those who rely on the flow-on effect of his operation.
“We were at Wonnangatta (on an eight day ride) when the fires started up,” he said.
“Now, long story short, there is a blanket ban on all state and national parks basically from the eastern side of the state pretty much to the Hume – which doesn’t allow us much – I can’t even ride out our back gate at the moment which is pretty crazy because we can’t do rides.
“We are having guests ring up and wanting to transfer rides which is having an impact financially.”
Mr Ludeman said with the State of Disaster now lifted in Mansfield, he was hopeful of resuming rides as quickly as possible.
“We aren’t in as bad a position as some of the others – we have just finished our eight day ride, so we had a bit of a booking gap to rest anyway.”
Out at Gough’s Bay and Sue Maxfield, who has run the General Store for more than 35 years, said it was the worst summer trade she could recall.
“It’s gone from 60 loaves of bread a day to three – I’ve got milk backed up till the cows come home,” she said.
“This is the worst summer I’ve ever experienced - we all rely on tourism, but this is just one of those unfortunate things.”
Ms Maxfield said that people had been terrified when Watch and Act alerts were issued after the Mt Buller and Bluff fires, and campers were told to leave The Pines and other popular camping areas.
“You go around and everyone has just left their stuff – there are vans and tents just abandoned,” she said.
“We have all learnt a lot from Black Saturday, and when Mallacoota happened and all those thousands of people were stranded out on the beach, they weren’t going to take any chances with people out in Sheepyard and in The Pines – but they do put the panic of fear into people.”
One community already fighting back is the local traders out at Jamieson, who have been left stranded with abandoned streets and no summer trade.
Taking to Facebook, the community has pleaded with regulars to return, initiating an ‘I Support Local Jamieson’ campaign.
Tim Arandt, from the Jamieson Brewery, has gone one step further – organising an official meeting with the Minister for Local Government and Small Business, Adem Somyurek, this coming Monday.
“It’s one of the first official visits from the minister – to Jamieson – in over a decade,” Mr Arandt said.
“He is coming up because of what has occurred with this State of Disaster.
“They’ve shut all the camp grounds – and we are nowhere near fires, and what it’s done is killed our local economy.”
Mr Arandt, who has expansion plans for the brewery, said it was important to promote the local communities from Kevington to Mansfield.
“We are going to have a meeting at the Memorial Hall – we are going to discuss our concerns, compensation, all that’s occurred, the condition of the roads, how we can get more money into the local community - even illegal deer hunting.”
Encouraging all interested to come along, the meeting will be held at 11am at the Jamieson Memorial Hall and will be chaired by Mr Arandt. “This is a formal visit,” Mr Arandt said. “We are pushing for everyone to be there.”
ALMOST EMPTY: Normally bustling with school holiday and summer traffic, the streets of Mansfield are strangely quiet.