The following is an excerpt from a Newcastle Herald article, published Saturday 18 January 2020, headed, “Wollombi businesses out of the fires and moving back onto the tourist map”:
When the fires advanced through the rugged landscape around Wollombi in December, residents feared their historic village would be devoured.
“It was only the weather that saved Wollombi,” said David Allwood, who operates a tourist accommodation business, Somewhere Unique, with his partner Murray Groves. “It was that close. We really thought at one stage we were gone.”
The village was spared, but the flames still scorched the soul of the village and dried up its lifeblood. The tourists stayed away in what is one of the busiest times of the year for the area.”Without tourism, there isn’t Wollombi,” said David Allwood.
Amid the trees just to the east of Wollombi are the two self-contained retreats at Somewhere Unique. Usually, the cabins are fully booked on weekends and 60 per cent occupied during the week. But not this holiday season.
“For the first time ever, we had no one in over New Year’s Eve,” said David Allwood.
The two cabins offer expansive views. But in December those windows provided a perspective of an impending disaster, with the distant ridgelines aflame.
“The bookings dropped off entirely,” Mr Allwood said, explaining there were only “a handful” made for November and December. “But then in December, when the fires actually hit here, that’s when we had to start cancelling guests as well.”
“Our income for December and probably January will be less than half, year-on-year,” said Murray Groves.
Those losses have rippled through the community, with many people relying on the “gig economy”. For instance, David Allwood and Murray Groves explained, with no guests, there was little or no work for those who did cleaning, tour guiding, or provided massages.
“For those people, it’s been very traumatic,” Mr Allwood said.
During the holidays, Wollombi’s main street is often thick with tourists, as they drop into the tavern for a drink or have meals in the restaurants and cafes. But in December, only a sense of foreboding and thick smoke were about. The roads were closed and no one, but a few locals, was about.
In looking for a positive from the fires, David Allwood said the village was focusing on promoting itself. In the past, he said, there was sometimes an attitude of, “The visitors come and everyone’s happy, and it’s all good”.
“But I think that complacency has gone,” he said. “The community is really going all out.”
For the Australia Day long weekend a range of events is planned, from an outdoor cinema in the Grays Inn garden to markets on the Monday.
Although the fire season isn’t over, the businesses see the long weekend as a major opportunity to put Wollombi back on the tourist map.
David Allwood said it was vital to bring back the visitors, “and quickly, because there’s so many people whose livelihoods are in question at the moment”.
For the complete article, please click here.
And as we return to beautiful normality, we both sincerely thank our loyal past-guests, and enthusiastic new guests for their support and goodwill especially in the form of bookings which have been very positive throughout January.
David & Murray