Businesses in small Tasmanian towns suffer as coronavirus causes tourism to dry up


Rural towns in the middle of Tasmania which usually hum with the business from passing traffic are struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, with a lack of tourism turning main streets into ghost towns.

Campbell Town and Ross are common pitstops on the Midland Highway for those travelling between the state’s major cities of Launceston and Hobart but these days business has dried up.

Local Ross resident Chris Robinson said the town had hardly anyone passing through.

Chris and husband Steve have called the heritage town home for seven years and both say it is now a ghost town.

“The first thing to go were the tourists, they vanished almost overnight,” Mr Robinson said.

The heritage town of Ross is desperate for visitors to return.(ABC News: Jessica Moran)

Mrs Robinson said the town had “absolutely died”.

“The businesses are really struggling, the bakery is still open, the pub only does takeaway evening meals and the post office is still running but that’s about it,” she said.

“You can walk down the main street and not see a soul.”

The lack of drive-by drop ins has also had a significant impact on businesses in Campbell Town, 10 minutes north of Ross.

Peter Byers, Campbell Town butcher, Tasmania, May 2020
Peter Byers has kept his Campbell Town butcher shop open for the locals.

Peter Byers has been a butcher there for more than 30 years.

He said the town was extremely quiet.

“It’s really terrible,” he said.

“You could come to the town of a weekend or early morning and fire a gun up both sides of the street and not hit anyone, not a soul, not a car, you don’t see anyone.

“Everything’s shut, there’s nothing to pull up for.

“I normally do around 30 meat trays for clubs and pubs every Friday but that’s all ended.

“It’s been very difficult, you normally see around 40 caravans in the street. Today’s there’s not one.”

Midlands Highway at Campbell Town, Tasmania, May 13 2020.
During tourist season, Campbell Town is bustling with people travelling between Tasmania’s two major cities.(ABC NEWS: Jessica Moran)

Mr Byers said he felt lucky that he owned his business and was the sole employee, but others were not in the same position.

“I could close my doors and sit at home, or I could stay open for the locals and that’s what I’ve done,” he said.

From June 15, Tasmanians will be able to travel around the state and stay in accommodation overnight.

Beres Taylor at Bakery 31, Ross, Tasmania, May 2020.
Beres Taylor says his bakery usually has lines of customers snaking around the store.(ABC News: Jessica Moran)

Ross bakery owner Beres Taylor hopes the lifting of restrictions will be the beginning of things slowly starting to improve.

“We decided to stay open when others around us were closing and we did that for our staff and the locals,” he said.

“For some people, coming in here for their morning coffee and fresh loaf of bread is the only social interaction they may have all day.

“When my wife and I took over this bakery last year it was one of the most popular in the state, we had lines curling around inside the store but now it’s completely different.”

Northern Midlands mayor Mary Knowles is encouraging all businesses in the region to register with the Northern Midlands Business Association, a not-for-profit group which offers a business directory as well as workshops and training.

“It’s free to register, and so far there are around 1,000 businesses involved and this is how the council is supporting local businesses,” she said.

She said she was concerned some businesses would not be able to reopen after the pandemic.

“Campbell Town is a central meeting place for many groups, it’s normally a thriving hub,” she said.

“Many are mum and dad businesses, and if they’re not eligible for government assistance, it’s tough.”

Mrs Robinson had this plea for anyone passing through.

“If anyone is passing down the highway, don’t forget we’re still here, we’re still open, come and get a coffee,” she said.

“It’s a such a beautiful place!

“It’s autumn, kick the leaves, be a kid again.”

Old red brick bridge in Campbell Town Tasmania
Campbell Town is usually a central meeting place for many business, government and community groups.(Flikr: Steven Penton)
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