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Australia Delivery services keep isolated regional communities fed and moving during COVID-19 lockdown

06:01  02 june  2020
06:01  02 june  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man riding on the back of a truck: Annabelle (right) relies on food deliveries ever since her rural community's nearest supermarket closed. (ABC Central West: Luke Wong) © Provided by ABC Health Annabelle (right) relies on food deliveries ever since her rural community's nearest supermarket closed. (ABC Central West: Luke Wong) When Annabelle's nearest supermarket closed, it was a blow for many in her rural community who faced the prospect of travelling a 180-kilometre return-trip to buy groceries.

"That was pretty devastating for the region," she said.

"It's at least an hour to the supermarkets each way. It's a big chunk of your day."

But now the grazier is enjoying fresh goods delivered right to her farm gate, through a service that was born out of the coronavirus lockdown.

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"It's a lifesaver really. The ability to have fresh fruit and vegetables on a weekly basis is fantastic," she said.

Annabelle, who has been taking care of her elderly parents since the start of the lockdown, said the deliveries brought back childhood memories for her 87-year-old mother.

"She says everything old is new again because this is how she used to get her groceries when she was a little girl," Annabelle said.

"The bread and the milk used to come with the mailman."

Keeping essential services operating

Once a week, delivery driver Justin McKenzie is one of the few regular visitors to stop by Annabelle's 1,820-hectare property near Tullamore in central western NSW.

Mr McKenzie travels hundreds of kilometres each week to send essential goods to isolated communities and properties throughout the region.

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"It's been positive, the people that run into you, they've been quite appreciative of the boxes that we take out and the food that we've got in them," he said.

"For older people it saves them going to Parkes or Condobolin; they can get it delivered and just pick it up from the pub."

Mr McKenzie is employed by Clint Evans, the owner-manager of a wholesale fruit and vegetable delivery service two hours' drive away in the city of Orange.

When lockdown restrictions on pubs and clubs stripped 70 per cent of his revenue, Mr Evans introduced personal deliveries that now make up 30 per cent of his business.

Mr Evans said it was a tough few weeks to keep all the employees on the books until they could roll onto the Federal Government's JobKeeper wage subsidy.

"They've got families and they've got bills to pay," he said.

"If that wage subsidy wasn't there I wouldn't be able to guarantee that eight staff that we have here would be able to come to work every day.

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"The longer they're available and the Government is offering that support it's good for small business."

Couriers filling flight gaps

Co-owner of Orange Courier Service, Scott Riley, said his family's 25-year-old business had experienced one of its busiest periods ever due to the pandemic.

Mr Riley said the company's drivers were moving urgent mining equipment, pathology samples, and documents.

Items that would normally be transported on regional airline flights were now being delivered by road.

"With the lack of Rex flights we've had to fill that gap by running things down to Mascot and lodging it on flights or vice versa," Mr Riley said.

During April the company saw a 30 per cent increase in parcel delivery rates through Orange, Parkes and Forbes, with one day cracking the record held by a Christmas period.

Mr Riley said the high demand also meant the company had been able to take on extra people from other industries who lost employment or had their hours cut back.

"[Demand] has consistently stayed up since then with no real end in sight at the moment," he said.

"For us it's just waiting and see for what the next few weeks bring with the easing of restrictions and what that does to people shopping online."

Click here for up-to-date coverage of the COVID-19 crisis on the Microsoft News app — available on Windows 10, iOS and Android

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