Sitting in a slow-moving queue of traffic on the Princes Highway on the approach to my hometown on the South Coast would normally elicit a deep, slightly irritated sigh as I remind myself that our seasonal businesses do actually need our summer visitors.
Visitors and traffic are things us South Coast locals used to talk about, a lot.
Like the number of Canberrans flooding in with their blue ‘Y’ number plates and settling into their holiday homes with an air of ownership or, watching the Victorians arrive in cars with trailers loaded like they were moving in rather than holidaying for a couple of weeks in one of our beachside caravan parks.
And, we can always spot the families arriving from inland, a pretty friendly bunch but still a little out of place swapping their boots for thongs, for their annual break by the sea.
We knew how and when to dodge the traffic and busy times at the shops, and we told our own visiting family and friends that one year they should come when it’s not busy – ‘It’s much better’, we would say.
But in recent years the queues of traffic have diminished and the only thing ‘normal’ in our lives has been a setting on the dishwasher – the one between ‘pots and pans’ and ‘quick’.
It has been a tough few years for us all since that terrible night on the last day of December 2019 when the Currowan fire crossed the Kings Highway and roared south, changing our lives and our landscape forever.
Trapped in our ash and smoke-filled towns for days, without power, fuel or supplies, our summer visitors left as soon as they could and at a time of shock and despair, we were grateful they did. Little did we know it was to be years until they returned in full force.
I admit things got pretty confusing for our mostly well intentioned visitors for a while there.
Following the fires, our devastated towns called for our visitors to come back. Picking ourselves up out of the ashes our businesses were in need of sales and ‘Bring an empty esky’ was the cry. But barely able to draw breath, COVID-19 arrived, and our visitors were repeatedly told to stay away lest our small hospitals get overrun and our older population succumb to the virus for which we then had no vaccine.
So we got what we all thought we wished for and we truly had the place to ourselves.
Our streets were quiet, empty of traffic and crowds, not a single noisy jet ski or fishing boat could be heard on our waterways and our pristine beaches were bare.
It was kind of nice for a while until it wasn’t – when a pandemic taught us, by taking it away, the value of connectedness and community and that for us, our visitors are part of our community, part of the rhythm and vibrancy of our life on the coast.
So this summer, as the crowds flocked to the beaches, the traffic banked up, the fishers queued at the boat ramps, the shops ran out of supplies and I couldn’t find a park, I haven’t complained once, it has been a relief. A sign of life, post fires, post lockdowns, it is a return to a familiar season of old summers on the coast.
Old favourites Bells Family Carnival, the Moruya Races, New Year’s Eve fireworks and the shows and the rodeos have all been packed with crowds of happy locals and visitors alike.
There is life in the hum of our cafes and restaurants when they are busy and the carparks are filled with families eagerly heading to the markets or to play on the beach.
We have no idea what lies ahead and there are plenty of challenges for us to face, from addressing climate change issues, developing a more sustainable economy, equitable access to housing and protecting our natural environment, but right now, this summer, I am happy to share our sleepy, beautiful part of the world with the other people who just want to relax and enjoy, what we have year round, for their own happy moments and memories.
Our beautiful South Coast is something to be shared and we can enjoy those moments when a cheery but lost looking visitor asks, ‘Are you a local?’ and we get to smile back and proudly say ‘Yes’.
Original Article published by Karyn Starmer on About Regional.