It’s time for the Capital region to act like a community and leave the loathing behind

Genevieve Jacobs 11 April 2020 122
Person sitting on wharf looking out to Clyde River and bushland at Nelligen.

Clyde River at Nelligen on the NSW South Coast. Photo: Eurobodalla Tourism.

If the past summer’s bushfires brought out the best in our community, could COVID-19 be bringing out the worst?

Everyone is a little bit scared. Everyone is fragile. Everyone’s lives have been thrown into turmoil by these strange times. And everyone wants to protect themselves and those they love from the virus.

However, it’s been shocking to see how virulent some of that conversation has become.

“NO OFFENCE CANBERRIANS STAY OUTA BATEMANS BAY YA NOT WANTED OR F****N NEEDED THERE”, (asterisks mine) reads one Facebook post. It’s not hard to find other posts that call for closing the borders, or make reference to “virus-laden” ACT residents.

Region Media colleagues say if you have Canberra number plates in many South Coast communities, you’re probably risking an egging.

In a word, some of the reactions have been feral.

Here’s the lowdown from Canberra: ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has been abundantly clear that people should not be visiting their holiday homes on the coast or high country, calling it “extraordinarily selfish”.

His message echoes pleas from Snowy Monaro Mayor Peter Beer, Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innis and Bega Valley Mayor Kristy McBain.

A message from US to YOU#stayhome#staysafe#begavalley#sapphirecoast? Ruby McBain? Max McBain (Loving Home by Kim Churchill)? Jack McBain

Posted by Kristy McBain – Mayor, Bega Valley Shire Council on Monday, 6 April 2020

And it is selfish. Regional communities do not have the resources to carry infected people from elsewhere. Everyone should stay home, but not because Canberrans pose a greater COVID-19 risk than anyone else.

The ACT is not a coronavirus hotspot. Diagnoses in the ACT are roughly level pegging with the rest of Southern NSW. There is no confirmed evidence of community transmission in Canberra, where health authorities say the community has been cooperative with new restrictions.

Indeed, the nearest actual COVID-19 hotspot to Canberra is up the road from the Eurobodalla in Nowra, where NSW health authorities have identified an elevated risk of community transmission and subsequently expanded local testing criteria.

So where does this loathing and antipathy come from?

All of us who grew up in Southern NSW recall the lurking dislike of “Canberra people” in rural communities (despite the fact that many of them were our own family members who had gone to the ACT for jobs and education – a trend that continues today).

But in the Eurobodalla, for example, non-residential ratepayers represent around 40 per cent of the rate base, and therefore a substantial chunk of the income that provides services for everyone. People from Canberra, among other places, pay for roads, water, sewerage, parks and ovals with their rates.

Canberrans’ love of the coast often arises from generations of family visits and enduring friendships. In retirement, it’s not uncommon for people to divide their time between the national capital and regional areas, and to become engaged, active citizens in both places.

Just weeks ago, fire-ravaged communities begged people from Canberra to visit the coast. As the whole region suffered through a horrific summer that brought the blazes right to our doorsteps, ACT locals set out as soon as they were safe to do so and brought their eskies with them.

Car rallies were organised to visit Braidwood, campaigns created to fill country town streets with those “yogi-bear” number plates. And had COVID-19 not intervened, there’s little doubt that visitor dollars would be bringing much-needed replenishment to regional business coffers this Easter.

Every day, children from Southern NSW head across the border for schooling and populate Canberra’s universities and vocational training institutes.

And if you are really, really sick somewhere in the Capital region, you will very likely end up in the Canberra Hospital, perhaps even airlifted into Woden.

While there’s a GST allocation that’s intended to cover the disproportionate costs of providing healthcare and, to a lesser extent, education for around one million people from a tax base of half that population, it’s long been a bone of contention whether that funding meets the actual need.

But that healthcare and education provision is as it should be. Why? Because this is a region where we are all connected. The ACT is not an anomalous hole on the map, filled with aliens. We are all a vital part of each other’s communities and we depend upon each other socially and economically.

Many people in Canberra are – like me – from regional NSW, living or working here regularly. We do that precisely because Canberra is the sweet spot between the opportunities of city life and the deep-seated desire to stay connected with your country roots.

When all this ends, there will be more holidaymakers down the coast or up in the high country, bringing their love for the bush and the beach along with their friendship, community support and dollars.

Let’s work together as a region. Let’s resist the fear-ridden temptation to blame “the other” and thus sow division and hatred. Life is hard enough already. Let’s choose to be kind neighbours and friends to each other.


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122 Responses to It’s time for the Capital region to act like a community and leave the loathing behind
Acton Acton 5:18 pm 17 Apr 20

It is always good to get beyond pretense and know what people really, honestly think about you. One of the reasons we wanted to holiday on the South Coast was to help the locals after the fires. But clearly we from Canberra are held in contempt by residents of the South Coast and so we should keep that in mind. Stuff you too.

Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 5:35 pm 16 Apr 20

While everything in this article may be true I have had a very different experience. My neighbours have been so kind and caring. Offering to get groceries and scripts, setting up online coffee and chats and book club meetings. We open our doors each evening and end each day with uplifting music and a wave. I couldn’t speak more highly of the kindness here in Campbell and I’m sure my community is not unique. Canberra is a very kind, generous place and a city with a lot of soul in the community.

paulettepat paulettepat 4:53 pm 16 Apr 20

Thanks, Genevieve. Very thoughtful, as always. We divide our time between Canberra and Malua Bay and have spent the past 3 weeks getting repairs done to our bushfire-damaged house and garden. Because we are familiar faces in Malua, we are treated as “Canberra locals” rather than blow-ins but we do dislike the over-zealousness of some of the sentiment we pick up.

Tjilpi1 Tjilpi1 10:48 am 13 Apr 20

Well said.

Karen Ockwell-Roxby Karen Ockwell-Roxby 7:07 am 13 Apr 20

Great arguments here .. BUT if you got sick while ‘down the coast’ where would you want to be?

In our tiny hospitals that struggle with our local population ..

Many local doctors have had their books closed for years leaving long waiting lists due to high demand and too few GP’s...

Or where you have access to the best health care?

Think about risks involved if you or one of your loved ones develop the most serious symptoms of the virus in our small communities - this involves critical care transfers by air or road to Canberra, Wollongong or Sydney leaving you further away from them due to travel restrictions..

    Eileen Kelliher Eileen Kelliher 10:22 am 13 Apr 20

    The irony is if you got really sick you would end up back I Canberra

Heather Apthorpe Heather Apthorpe 6:10 am 13 Apr 20

This article is valid and has some good points. The problem with the coast is that neither Bateman’s Bay or Moruya hospitals have any ventilators or ICU for that matter. They are small community hospitals manned by nurses with visits from the local GPs. They have no respiratory physicians or intensivists. All serious cases are referred to Canberra or Sydney hospitals and transported by ambulance or helicopter. So they just don’t have the capability to cope with COVID 19 seriously ill patients. That is why they have asked everyone to stay away from the coast. They also already have a high population of retirees and at risk persons who are terrified of contracting the virus. So while it upsets Canberrans to not have access to our usual Easter holiday at the coast, there will be other years. So a little tolerance by all is what is needed. I for one, am using this time to do some painting and “autumn cleaning” and enjoying the autumn colours in Canberra.

Lisa de Waal Lisa de Waal 5:04 am 13 Apr 20

Why has this virus brought out the worst in people?

Rod Whithear Rod Whithear 3:20 am 13 Apr 20

It will be interesting to see whether a clamour for tourism investment to rescue these communities will engender any sympathy when those communities have actively discouraged visitors. Mogo?

    John Kerry Tozer John Kerry Tozer 8:30 am 17 Apr 20

    Rod Whithear - Never had to be discouraged from stopping in Mogo...!

Chris Gordon Chris Gordon 12:59 am 13 Apr 20

I don’t really get this column. People from different regions need to stay separate. There’s nothing unique about that. It follows, then, that people from cities need to keep clear of country towns and vice versa. It’s not personal... it’s just a combination of sound health practice and current legislation. Whether we are one big community, one big state or one big nation is just rhetoric... at this point in history, we are stronger if we are separate. .

Kate Berrell Kate Berrell 9:09 pm 12 Apr 20

Interestingly south coasters destroying community and business relations dont view themselves as selfish.

Jan Peart Jan Peart 9:05 pm 12 Apr 20

I live in Canberra but I came from the coast I still visit the coast as it lovely 😊 there. But Not all Canberra people r selfish. I know heaps people who have holidays places at the coast . That would stay home 🏡 so not to

Give the virus 🦠 to other people who live there. Where not all selfish.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:44 pm 12 Apr 20

Hopefully, in the next year, or so, there will be a vaccine, and maybe even effective treatments for the virus, and then people can drop the high-grade aggro and get back to the traditional parochial insults.

Just on the touchy subject of health funding in Canberra, it’s not, of course, all covered by the Medicare levy, which is not paid by everyone, anyway – there’s exemptions for low income earners.

In the case of the ACT health system, the latest Rates Notices (that’s “Council Rates”, for the benefit of non-Canberrans) issued by the ACT Government shows that 31% of the money paid by Canberrans for annual rates on their homes goes to the ACT health system (along with 24% to the ACT education system). A similar proportion of all the other taxes paid by Canberrans would also go to the ACT health system, so let’s not pretend it’s all funded by national taxes – it most certainly is not.

Kellie Ward Kellie Ward 7:23 pm 12 Apr 20

I moved to the bay from Canberra 5 years ago, I hate that some in the community here are sprouting such venom... we don't all feel like that ok ...

Tom Rilly Tom Rilly 7:07 pm 12 Apr 20

The South Coast should be careful what they wish for...........biting the hand that feeds you is never clever. They should consider their responses/statements carefully.

    Chris Gordon Chris Gordon 1:23 am 13 Apr 20

    Tom Rilly are you the hand that feeds them?

    Tom Rilly Tom Rilly 8:56 am 13 Apr 20

    Chris Gordon what does that (late night/early morning) comment even mean??

    Chris Gordon Chris Gordon 9:22 am 13 Apr 20

    Tom Rilly sounded like you suggested that Canberra... or you... were the hand that feeds the South Coast. If people;e from the South Coast are saying keep away because all the experts are saying that's the right thing, are you suggesting Canberrans should punish them?

Gail Hayes Gail Hayes 6:38 pm 12 Apr 20

I will miss seeing the Autumn leaves in Canberra this year. Put some photos up of the pne around Lake Burley

Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 6:12 pm 12 Apr 20

Thank you. There are lots of wonderful people on the south coast and we love to visit often. Just not now

Ricky Gill Ricky Gill 6:06 pm 12 Apr 20

Everyone Pretty Much Still Works,, People Saying This Over An Over.........Should Lose The Jobs!!..??😞😒

James Noakes James Noakes 5:55 pm 12 Apr 20

Don't confuse south coast locals who have been panicked by media fearmongering, plus hate the influx of people during the holidays, with rational small business owners who's livelihoods depend on Canberra visitors.

    Lexie Donald Lexie Donald 8:32 pm 12 Apr 20

    James they outnumber the business owners 10 to 1 ...

    Chris Gordon Chris Gordon 1:21 am 13 Apr 20

    James Noakes here we go.... blame the media

Kate Berrell Kate Berrell 5:53 pm 12 Apr 20

Its difficult to unhear the savagery poured out on Canberrans.

Rose Mary Rose Mary 5:19 pm 12 Apr 20

I think this article is pretty unhelpful, dismissing the valid fears of small communities by painting them as died-in-the-wool Canberra bashers who are just looking for an excuse to abuse anyone with ACT plates. Most people on the south coast are not Joe Exotic-type characters patrolling the streets with sharpened pitchforks, just as most Canberrans are not entitled wankers. Let's stop fuelling the drama and all just be nice!

    Terese Melanie Terese Melanie 10:47 pm 12 Apr 20

    Rose Mary a local GP in the Eurobodalla shire who moved from the ACT to work there but is yet to change his rego was embarrassingly abused by a local this week at the local supermarket, so they're certainly is this element in the community!!

    Lisa Jones Lisa Jones 12:24 am 13 Apr 20

    Terese Melanie ditto for a family member of mine who was openly verbally abused because the rego plates haven’t been changed over yet although he lives there

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