Coronavirus lockdown takes Bruny Islanders back to a quieter time


April 24, 2020 06:16:09

Locals on Bruny Island say the coronavirus lockdown has transported them back to a more peaceful life before Tasmania’s tourism boom.

Key points

  • Bruny Island residents embrace life in lockdown, with veggie patches and strong community spirit
  • The pub has free food for residents, thanks to funds its received from anonymous donors
  • Locals say the coronavirus lockdown has seen the island return to what it was like before the tourism boom

Prior to the global pandemic, the remote island attracted 150,000 visitors each year, eager to experience its rugged wilderness, pockets of pastoral landscapes and locally grown produce.

But the streets are now quiet, the queues have vanished, and locals are embracing the slower pace of life from late last century.

Hotel Bruny owner Dave Gunton said his home of 12 years now resembled “a bit of a ghost town”.

“Twenty-five years ago, Bruny was a quiet piece of paradise where a car might roll by every now and then, and that’s what we’re seeing now,” the publican said.

“The people that live on Bruny are the type that go fishing for their food, grow their own veggies and raise their own goats.

“We’ve even had someone who would go and organise their own salt from the seawater.

“These aren’t people who necessarily need cafes, bars and restaurants, so there’s a strand of people that are actually enjoying the peace and quiet.”

Locals say vegetable patches have sprung up all over the island, and residents are more connected than ever.

But while some have embraced the island’s return to the past, others are feeling particularly isolated by the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Gunton said he was forced to cancel the pub’s Friday night meat raffle — a popular weekly tradition among locals that has gone uninterrupted for the past two decades.

For some elderly islanders, the tradition was their only social outing for the week.

“It was a pretty emotional time when we had to stop it on the basis of social distancing,” Mr Gunton said.

Publican forced to cut almost all staff

Just a day after cancelling the island’s beloved meat raffle, Mr Gunton found himself forced to slash “almost every shift in the book”.

“I’ll never forget coming into work that day. I had to go through our roster one by one, and these guys are like family to us, and delete their shifts,” he said of his 60 staff members.

“And mate, I had tears falling down my face.

“We’ve gone from a bustling hotel that was doing 2,000 meals a week to an empty hotel that barely does 15.”

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After switching off, packing down and freezing everything in sight, Mr Gunton directed the pub’s head chef to make soup from a left over box of leeks and a bag of spuds.

“Chef made this monstrous soup in a big industrial pot that took two of us to lift it off the stove,” he said.

“And we thought ‘what on earth are we going to do with this?'”

Pub feeds the island after receiving donations

The soup was given to residents free, prompting an outpouring of community spirit.

In the days that followed, the pub became inundated with locally grown produce, and several anonymous donations of “a couple of hundred dollars” from across the island, on the mainland, and even as far as New South Wales.

“The response was overwhelming. We actually had a car park full of people coming to collect free fish and chips on Easter Sunday,” he said.

The hotel is keen to keep the “community table” alive, with plans for an event to be held in the pub’s beer garden once a month when coronavirus restrictions lift.

Bruny Island local Jen Creighton has been ferrying the pub’s free feeds to the elderly while doing compassionate checks.

She watched her accommodation business go from “thriving” to “non-existent” almost overnight, and is now using her spare time to grow a veggie patch.

“We made a decision early on to just stay on the island and not leave for any reason, and anything we need, we get the Bruny Island courier to deliver,” she said.

“It’s amazing how resourceful we can all be when we choose to use the produce on the island.

“There’s such a gorgeous feeling of gratitude among islanders. There’s this beautiful strength of community spirit and this old-fashioned way of doing things.

“I actually hear people say: ‘Wow, isn’t it amazing how connected we all are at the moment?’

“I think it’s important that when we emerge from this, we don’t forget it,” she said.

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