Halls Gap faces new post-fires crisis: no tourists

Gone: Bought by the Carter family in 1858, Rosebrook homestead in Wartook did not survive the fire.
Gone: Bought by the Carter family in 1858, Rosebrook homestead in Wartook did not survive the fire. 

As soon as the residents of Halls Gap were allowed to return to their homes after the bushfire threat subsided, a new challenge emerged - a lack of tourists.

Summer is peak holiday season, with the Grampians National Park, galleries and small family-run businesses relying on the tourist dollar to get through the quieter months.

The town survived last week's raging bushfires thanks to a change in wind direction and the national park is expected to re-open on Monday afternoon. Locals are counting the cost, including the destruction of the historic homestead Rosebrook in Wartook, home to seven generations of the Carter family since 1858. The town hopes prospective customers won't be put off in coming weeks.

An early photo of Rosebrook homestead.
An early photo of Rosebrook homestead. 

Old Dadswell Bridge Town owner Max Green said he would put out a sign at the front of his holiday cabins to let prospective guests know he is still open for business.

Apart from some burnt pasture, Mr Green said his property escaped damage but he acknowledged it could be hard to attract people this summer. "Without a doubt we're going to struggle for customers for a couple of months," he said. "This will doubly hurt."

It's the second serious bushfire threat Grampians towns have survived in as many years; in February last year the Victoria Valley, Victoria Range, Red Rock and Rocklands Reservoir were temporarily closed because of a raging bushfire that burnt more than 30,000 hectares of land. It followed flooding across much of western Victoria in 2011.

Horsham resident Don Plenty, who volunteered to fight the fires, said the town had just got back on its feet when the latest bushfire struck. "All the tourist facilities are still there and people should go and see them," he said.

Yvonne and Greg Culell, who have operated Halls Gap Zoo for the past six years, stayed behind with two staff members to defend the hundreds of animals.

Mrs Culell said the animals had coped remarkably well. Some were endangered species. "Our animals' and staff's lives were first priority. We made sure everyone was OK and we assisted where we could."

She said the business relied on people returning to visit.

"It's part of being part of a regional community," she said.

The Country Fire Authority downgraded the threat on Saturday, thanks to an earlier-than-expected change in wind direction.

Across the Grampians at least 10 properties were destroyed, 51,800 hectares burnt and about 7500 livestock were killed or injured. A 78-year-old woman was found dead in a Rose Gap property on Friday but authorities believe she died from a pre-existing medical condition.

In East Gippsland, bushfires north of Club Terrace, near Mallacoota, continued to burn out of control through the weekend.

The CFA has urged residents to remain on alert.

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