EMPTY: The River Gum Tourist Park is staying open for the time being, although the owners say it’s hardly worthwhile.
EMPTY: The River Gum Tourist Park is staying open for the time being, although the owners say it’s hardly worthwhile.

‘Million dollar question:’ Caravan park owners next move

TOURISTS are being told to stay away in a bid to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the smaller, yet-to-be-affected southwest Queensland shires.

It’s a stark contrast from the remote communities putting out the welcome mat to travellers less than a month ago.

With Bulloo Shire the latest local government to enact strong protection measures against coronavirus by closing down all local camping sites and telling tourists to stay home, St George tourist park owners are left wondering if the Balonne Shire will follow suit.

Ivan Bradley has operated the River Gum Tourist Park for 15 years with his wife Ann, and said they will remain open until it becomes unviable.

With the Battle on the Balonne originally expected to draw over 170 competitors on the weekend prior, River Gum Tourist Park should have been booming during this period.

However, like many other caravan parks struggling to stay afloat it has instead become a ghost town.

“We had heaps of bookings for the season and were so excited at the start of the year for how promising it looked, but obviously now they’ve all been wiped out,” Mr Bradley said.

“We are still operating for the moment, but it’s nearly a waste of time because hardly anyone is coming through.

“We’ve currently got three caravans left in our park, with two of them who live on the road and have nowhere to go.”

Mr Bradley said while one of the grey nomads has booked in for the next couple of weeks to “wait it out and see what happens,” the high rates they are paying for electricity and operating costs is not making it financially feasible.

“It’s one of those things because everyone’s in the same boat but it’s disappointing to see that there’s not much support for small businesses,” he said.

“There doesn’t seem to be any packages for those self employed and that’s a big problem.”

While Ivan and Ann rely on travellers and grey nomads passing through town for their livelihood, they said they would support the Balonne Shire’s decision if they decided to ban tourists like other south west towns have implemented in the past week.

“Of course I would be feeling disappointed that I would have to close my business but the safety of the town is the main priority,” Mr Bradley said.

“You wouldn’t want the tourists bringing any viruses to town and feeling like you’re responsible.”

“If we have an influx of tourists coming through our town, it will be a bit of a problem with our health system due to the low amount of defibrillators we have and the population of the town.”

If the Balonne Shire does make the decision to ban all incoming tourists, resulting in the closure of the caravan parks, Ivan said “it’s the million dollar question,” for what his and Ann’s next move would be.

“I think we would just take a break and buy a lotto ticket,” he chuckled.

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