8 April 2020

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

| Genevieve Jacobs
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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”, reads one Facebook post. It’s not hard to find other posts that call for roadblocks on all highways, or make reference to “virus-laden” ACT visitors.

Region Media colleagues say if you have Canberra vehicle 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.

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 level pegging with the rest of Southern NSW. There is no 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 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.

A love of the coast by Canberrans 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 the 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 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.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on The RiotACT.

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Corinne Markov5:42 pm 13 Apr 20

There are many individual cirumstances that cause annoyance. Many people who own property here and live away – do not clear fireweed, love grass, or blackberry on their properties. Also, now with the fires, some property owners, have not helped with fencing etc even though they might share boundary fencing. Its frustrating. Owning property demands responsibilities too.

Corinne Markov: My neighbours in the Bay are locals and they don’t clear their fireweed, love grass, or blackberry on their properties 😂
Perhaps clean up your own backyards first…

Marie Zuvich1:11 pm 13 Apr 20

Hear hear. Have been calling out the loathing on Facebook but feel very much in the minority I’m afraid. Keep up the good work and balanced reporting folks

I just want to say a HUGE THANK YOU to all those on this page who would have been here this weekend or for the school holidays. We thoroughly appreciate your actions! We know you wanted to come, you may own a property in this area, but again, thank you for not visiting our region at this challenging time! Please share this post, so that we are not seen as being totally anti visitors, just not at this time, given these circumstances….

I agree that we need to be kind to each other and that the benefits shared by our neighbour relationship are enduring and long lived.
Some of the hostility generated by locals is unwarranted.
However, some visitors to our area, and not just from the ACT, seem to have a very relaxed view of protective behaviour which has resulted in tighter restrictions for all. And hostility and fear from some locals.
If we each behaved as though we had the virus and we were contagious, no matter where we are, the whole community will be protected.

Batemans bay locals have complained about the “invasion of Yogis for years but it is a holiday town , filled to the brink of motels , caravan parks and air bnbs.
They were only too happy to accept help after the fires but they have a short memory, yogis dont.
If yogis decide not to stay at the Bay well the accom places will suffer and unemployment will rise
Dont bite the hand that feeds you.

Susan Elderfield9:13 am 13 Apr 20

Great article, well said I agree wholeheartedly

Carol Barton8:36 am 13 Apr 20

We are all told to stay home, does not matter where we live, and we cannot cross borders. That’s it in a nutshell.

Very good article. The same wisdom applies to some Victorian number plate owners who’ve retired to the southern coastal towns but go regularly to Melbourne to visit family.

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