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Australia Coronavirus Kimberley travel restrictions set to be eased as grey nomads prepare to head north

01:26  04 june  2020
01:26  04 june  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a man smiling for the camera: Grey nomad Ian Baird has called Broome home for a few months of the year for more than two decades. (ABC News: Jessica Warriner) © Provided by ABC Health Grey nomad Ian Baird has called Broome home for a few months of the year for more than two decades. (ABC News: Jessica Warriner) The bags are packed, caravans are being checked and convoys assembled as travellers prepare for Western Australia's Kimberley border to come down.

Ian Baird is one of the grey nomads that calls Broome home over the winter, and is itching to hit the road for the more than 2,000 kilometre journey from his home south of Mandurah.

"This will be my 22nd year," he said.

"I do it for the climate mostly — Broome's climate is unbeatable really."

The green light is expected to be given to visitors on Friday, with the WA Police Commissioner and State Government working with the Federal Government to remove restrictions on biosecurity zones in the state's north.

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The eased restrictions will mean tourists can access the Kimberley, parts of the Shire of East Pilbara and the Shire of Ngaanyatjarraku, opening up some of the last closed areas of the state.

Access to 274 remote Aboriginal communities will remain restricted.

Grey nomads on the way

Caravans line Mr Baird's street, with many of his neighbours making the same trip north every year.

One of those neighbours is Gary Gulberti, Mr Baird's brother-in-law — a racehorse trainer who first went up to Broome in 1985 for the Broome Cup.

While there will be no racing in Broome this season, Mr Baird and Mr Gulberti are setting off this week, eager to get to their second home as soon as possible.

"The friendships I've made, the fishing, it's just wonderful," Mr Gulberti said.

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"I'll be down the beach with my little dog — have a run along the beach and watch the sunset, have a couple of beers with friends."

Broome's population roughly triples during its peak season from June to September, with numerous grey nomads and travellers from around the country calling it home for a few months.

Normally bustling parks sit quiet

Cable Beach Caravan Park owner Ron Beacham is one of many Broome business operators waiting to welcome back visitors.

Usually at this time of year his park would be full. Now, he estimates around 35 guests are there out of a possible 500 spaces.

"Everyone's just sitting on their hands. If there's no people, there's no money," he said.

"A big part of Broome is tourism, and the tourists can't get here."

Mr Beacham said the hit to the season would not be able to be recouped, but was hopeful the final intrastate borders going down would get things moving.

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"There's people now rebooking, and a lot that wouldn't have even booked, may have gone to Bali or wherever, who may now travel within WA," he said.

Tourism season set to resume

Australia's North West Tourism surveyed 141 businesses across the Kimberley and Pilbara to find out how they were coping with COVID-19.

More than 60 per cent reported losing between half and three-quarters of their business, and over 26 per cent had lost more than $300,000.

Australia's North West Tourism chief executive Natasha Mahar said the Kimberley border reopening "couldn't be better news".

"Wet season generally kicks in about October, so we have a few short months to try and salvage something from this season," she said.

"We thought there was no chance for a season, but thankfully there now is, which we're incredibly grateful for."

Benefits all the way up the coast

Caravan Industry Association WA chief executive Craig Kenyon said he expected the initial surge north to be significant with borders easing.

"You'll start to see all the way up the coral coast, up to Exmouth, and then across the Pilbara into the Kimberley, you'll see the nomads in particular, the road trains of nomads travelling up there," he said.

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"They'll be getting up to Broome, places like that, as soon as possible. A lot of those parks and accommodation providers will get really busy."

Ms Mahar said she had heard of people waiting at Port Hedland to cross the border as soon as possible.

"I think it's going to be chaotic, but in a good way," she said.

"We're certainly not complaining."

Interstate border pain lingers

While tourism operators and travellers are celebrating the pending Kimberley opening, time is running out to attract interstate visitors before the wet season kicks in around October, with WA's state border still firmly in place.

Mr Baird said many members of his regular 'Broome family' would be missing for now.

"I've got many friends from over east, particularly the Gold Coast and Noosa, around there, and Warrnambool, Port Lincoln," he said.

Mr Beacham said the success of the remainder of his park's season could depend on whether the interstate border comes down in the next few weeks.

"If it goes much longer than that, [travellers are] not going to drive 6,000 kilometres to come over here and 6,000 kilometres to go back a couple of weeks later," he said.

For the WA grey nomads and travellers who can set out now, the north-west beckons.

"I'm looking very much forward to a feed of mud crabs and going fishing, playing bowls and the odd sundowner," Mr Baird said.

"There's no better place," Mr Gulberti said.

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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