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23 November 2020
The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 6 is available online. READ IT HERE!
By Andrew Dowdell
The tyranny of distance and a lower traditional tourism profile could work in favour of Hindmarsh Shire Council in its bid to attract visitors post-COVID, mayor Rob Gersch* believes.
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As strict restrictions on contact and travel begin to ease across Victoria, regional areas such as Hindmarsh Shire are eyeing tourist dollars for financial respite.
Cr Gersch, a lifetime resident and active community member of Nhill, said he believed Hindmarsh Shire could woo visitors away from iconic attractions such as the Grampians and Great Ocean Road.
“What we are going to have is people being tied up at home for so long that when the restrictions are lifted, they will be like a dog off a chain looking for somewhere to go,” he said.
“Last time the restrictions were lifted we went up to Halls Gap and I think everyone had the same idea, because it was so busy you basically couldn’t move.”
Cr Gersch said all Victorians would be acutely aware of the need to stop a third wave of COVID-19 infections and would likely seek destinations to avoid hordes of strangers.
While Hindmarsh Shire might lack traditional drawcard tourist spots, Cr Gersch said the rugged beauty and laid-back pace of his region would be attractive. This would especially be the case for Melbourne residents eager to breathe in fresh air away from the urban area.
“For someone who might live in towns or the city to just camp in our national parks or the Little Desert lodge would be an experience they might not have had before,” he said.
“I suppose for someone like myself who has lived in a town or region for so long you can take a lot of things for granted.
“For example, we have one of the three areas in Victoria with the clearest skies and the greatest number of stars visible from earth, and a lot of people would not have seen that in their lives.”
While some traditional holiday spots such as lakes Hindmarsh and Albacutya have been dry for years, Cr Gersch said the towns of Rainbow and Jeparit – the birthplace of Sir Robert Menzies – remained popular destinations especially for older travellers.
He said residents of rural and remote Victoria would also welcome visitors for the human contact as well as a financial lifeline.
“We have had no football or netball, people couldn’t go to their local pub for a meal or drink and that is a real problem in terms of mental health, especially for young people,” he said.
While eagerly anticipating life and travel to return to normal, Cr Gersch said he sympathised with the State Government and health officials tasked with avoiding another wave of infections.
“It is not an easy job for them. For example, Nhill is on the main highway and if there was suddenly open travel again there’s a potential for the virus to spread again – it is a really hard balancing act,” he said.
Now 78, Cr Gersch said he was often asked why he had never moved away from the region for larger centres.
“My answer is always three words. Quality of life,” he said.
*Cr Rob Gersch was mayor when this article was written. He has since handed the reins over to Cr Ron Ismay.