Source: Ben Groundwater is my favourite travel writer at Fairfax Media traveller.com.au and his piece today could apply anywhere in the world as the pandemic makes local travel the only serious option for the foreseeable.
Dear regional Australia,
I’m sorry. I’m sorry on behalf of myself, and my fellow travel writers. I’m sorry on behalf of travel bloggers and social-media influencers. I’m sorry on behalf of Australian city-dwellers who maybe don’t get out as much as they should, who might previously have preferred to spend their annual leave and their tourism dollars on fancy trips to Europe, and the Americas, and Africa, and Antarctica.
Because we’re coming. With state borders closed and long-distance travel prohibitive, we’re all looking for somewhere to go, somewhere new, somewhere different – and the highway beckons.
We’re coming for you out in regional Australia, out as far as regional goes. We’re coming to drink at your pubs and eat at your cafes and stay in your B&Bs and peruse your shops and wander your streets. We’re coming to discover your offerings and experience your culture and report back on it to readers and followers and friends.
And we’re going to be a bit of a nightmare. We’re going to be condescending. We’re going to be naïve.
Oh wow, we’ll say. The coffee’s actually all right out here, isn’t it?
And isn’t this place just so charming? Isn’t this quaint? Isn’t Australia an amazing place?
This will be annoying for you on several levels. It will be annoying because most times you’ll hear all of this gushing praise and you’ll think, yeah, no kidding. This is an amazing place, and it’s been here all the time. You just never bothered to look. Plenty of locals and travellers alike don’t need to be told that there are great things in regional Australia.
It will also be annoying because these gushing five-star reviews will glamorise rural life. They will idealise the country Australian existence, reducing living in an isolated region to surprisingly good food and beautiful scenery and friendly folk in hats.
I grew up in regional Australia, in central Queensland, so I know that the rural existence is more complicated than that. Yes, it’s charming in some ways, but it’s soul-sapping in others. It can be a hard place to make a living. It can be a hard place to fit in if you’re different. It can be a hard place to find anything to do if you’re young and carefree and have a lot of time on your hands; boredom and frustration make people do funny things.
If you live in a rural area you already know this, and my reckoning is that you’re not really going to appreciate some writer or influencer swanning in and telling you what an idyllic existence you enjoy, and how it’s making them consider a tree change. Oh yeah, you’ll think – go ahead and try. (Or: please don’t.)
We’re coming, and we’re going to be annoying. You’ll notice a sense of discovery in the social media posts and the travel stories that will be floating around for the next few months. There will be no shame in these declarations that we’ve found something amazing that everyone else should see – something that plenty of others have been checking out for years now.
And despite every effort, I will be part of this pack. This week I’m heading out into regional NSW and Victoria. I’m visiting wine country in Murrumbateman and Beechworth. I’m sampling the restaurants. I’m hanging out in the towns.
And I will probably be the one raving about how amazing it is, how Australia’s tourism offering is first-class, how I can now understand why foreign tourists spend so much money getting over here and experiencing everything we have to offer. I’ll make no mention of the fact that this is all happening because I suddenly can’t go anywhere else. And that will be understandably painful to watch.
We will all be guilty of this in some way, professionals and tourists alike, even those just setting out on small road trip because that holiday to Bali is now off the cards.
So all I can say is: sorry. This is definitely a case of “better late than never”. We might be condescending and we might be glossing over any problems in regional Australia (or not staying long enough to notice them) but at least we’re making the effort. At least we’re taking the chance to see our own country and maybe understand a little bit more of it and send tourist dollars in the right direction.
This could be the start of something great, of Australians of all ages choosing to holiday closer to home, choosing to forgo all of the airports and the hassles and appreciating the product that is sometimes literally on our doorstep.
So you’ll forgive a few annoyances as we find our way.
We’re coming, and we’re going to be annoying. Photo: iStock