Australia’s ‘gray nomads’ hit coronavirus speed bump

Sunshine Coast, Australia (CNN) — For many retired Australians, house just isn’t at all times a set deal with.

Dubbed “gray nomads,” an rising variety of older Aussies are scrapping their suburban setups to spend months, if not years, on the street.

According to Tourism Research Australia, 30,000 to 40,000 grey nomads journey domestically every quarter, on common.

After retiring from actual property, all my grandmother wished to do was be a part of them.

However, as a single lady in her early seventies, the concept of residing on the street long-term wasn’t a actuality she felt snug pursuing by herself.

Enter stage proper … A gray-haired musician with a journey trailer in tow and a promise of journey. The pair put their furnishings into storage, tied two khaki kayaks to the roof racks and decked out the caravan with dreamcatchers.

It’s in all probability value mentioning at this level within the story that the mysterious gray-haired musician is definitely my grandfather.

My grandparents, Val and Dan Atherton, obtained again collectively 23 years after separating. Nine months into their large lap round Oz, the World Health Organization declared a world pandemic.

Ten days and greater than 4,000 miles (round 6,500 kilometers) later, they’d traveled coast to coast internationally’s sixth largest nation in a bid to get house.

Beating the borders

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth lately praised the nation for its “overnight” response to the coronavirus outbreak. Yet shortly enforced journey restrictions left many weak residents stranded on the flawed aspect of the nation.

“A lot of gray nomads were caught out by the speed in which events unfolded,” says Cindy Gough, founding father of, referring to the closure of state borders and caravan parks in late-March.

Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory have all closed their borders to non-essential vacationers.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images

“In those early days, there was an unfortunate backlash in some communities against gray nomads who were simply trying to get home or to find a place to sit out the pandemic,” Gough explains.

In response, seasoned grey nomads, Bruce and Marg Gow, used their on-line platform Baby Boomers on the Road to assist displaced roving retirees.

“There was a lot circling on the rumor mill. We shared government updates, advice from those who’d made it home, and worked to promote positivity amid the crisis,” says Marg.

My grandparents, members of the Gows’ Facebook group, have been in Western Australia’s Carnarvon, a coastal city about 560 miles north of Perth, when the nation crawled into hibernation.

Their hometown of Gympie in Queensland was an extra distance away than a transatlantic flight between London and New York.

“The mad dash home was a no-brainer for us,” says Val. “We made the decision together, and left with just a few hours’ notice.”

Acquiring exemptions to cross state borders, the duo hit the accelerator at a tempo solely reserved for truck drivers.

“For 10 days, we drove, refueled, pulled into a van park, slept and then drove again.” Dan recollects. “We had masks, sanitizer and gloves. All van parks were no contact, which meant we were virtually in self isolation the whole way home.”

The journey was comparatively easy, regardless of a few crocodiles, a license plate theft and a disquieting name from the police.

“A border police officer where we had crossed days ago tested positive for the virus,” says Dan. “However, fortunately we did not come into contact with him or his team.”

Pulling right into a member of the family’s property simply over every week after they determined to flee, the pair describes the sensation of arriving house as “ecstatic.”

The coronavirus forced many of Australia's gray nomads, including Val Atherton, to head home.

The coronavirus compelled a lot of Australia’s grey nomads, together with Val Atherton, to move house.

Courtesy Val Atherton

‘A mad panic, not a mad sprint’

Normally, Pam and Alan Little spend nearly all of annually on the street.

When the pandemic hit, they may afford to pay to remain in a long-term caravan park whereas decreasing lease for the tenants residing of their home in Newcastle, New South Wales.

“We had people moving out of our home in mid-April,” Pam tells CNN Travel.

“Alan said, ‘it’s time to go home.’ We were 500 miles from the closest border when the government announced restrictions on interstate and regional travel. It was a mad panic, not a mad dash.”

Pam describes the scene once they reached South Australia as disorganized.

“No one was wearing masks,” she recollects.

“My husband has a pre-existing condition, yet quarantine officers were going through our belongings without gloves. It blew us away.”

The Littles made it house in eight days, however say it got here at the price of quite a few nervousness assaults.

Farms provide lifeline to stranded nomads

Some grey nomads didn’t have the choice to boomerang again house.

Last June, Colleen and Russ Lines bought all of their belongings and left Brisbane for the journey of a lifetime.

“You don’t know what’s around the corner,” Colleen says of the choice. “We wanted to see Australia while we can.”

The couple was camp hosting an hour north of Perth in Yanchep National Park when Western Australia closed all caravan and nationwide parks to vacationers.

“With no home to go to, we didn’t have a clear option,” Colleen explains. “There was a lot of uncertainty, as we needed to find somewhere to stay for the long term.”

Their answer got here within the type of a lifeline supplied by Olive Hill Farm. Like many different farmers, Benji and Helen Leggate closed their gates to the general public. However, they supplied a paddock for these caught.

“Like a mother hen extending her wings and gathering her chicks, we extended our farm to those on the road with nowhere to go,” Benji says.

Four caravans are actually hunkering on the property, with Benji describing a new-found sense of unity on the farm.

“Initially the mood was very unsettling, but as time passed, we created our own community, and people got into the rhythm of the farm. Now there is a great sense of peace, friendship and community.”

No halting harvest

My grandfather’s brother Greg Atherton and his spouse Jill Fewtrell, 65 and 64, have been touring wherever harvest takes them for over a decade, working throughout Australia on completely different farms.

When the coronavirus hit, the couple have been working in what they described because the “farm food bowl” of Victoria’s Murray River.

With an almond harvest in March and olive harvest in May, the duo normally heads house to see their household in Queensland whereas persevering with their farm work.

However, this yr they erected an isolation signal at their campsite and wrapped the perimeter of their caravan with purple and white hazard tape.

Jill Fewtrell and her husband Greg Atherton went into strict quarantine in between harvest seasons.

Jill Fewtrell and her husband Greg Atherton went into strict quarantine in between harvest seasons.

Courtesy Jill Fewtrell

“We completed two weeks quarantine and tested for the virus before the olive harvest,” says Jill. “Every morning now before we start our shift, we get our temperature checked as we come on site. We are also continually sanitizing all machines.”

“We need to keep the harvest safe,” Greg provides. “If something goes wrong, it is not good for anybody.”

The lengthy street forward

The first Australian coronavirus case was confirmed in January, amid a summer season of devastating bushfires. April marked the primary month of the yr the place no fires have been burning, however with tourism all however halted, the consecutive crises seemingly snipped the final little bit of thread to which many regional and rural communities have been hanging.

The caravan and tenting trade alone reported over US$135 million in losses for the month of April. According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, park income for the locked down month fell by 90%.

The devastated trade is now pointing to the journey habits of grey nomads as a part of the answer for the lengthy street to restoration.

“Gray nomads are vitally important to regional Australia as they disperse further around the country than other tourists,” explains Peter Clay of the Caravan Industry Association Australia.

“Once the restrictions have been eased, we are asking all travelers to support regional communities. It will be imperative that we kick-start the economy and generate as much economic value as possible to help families put food on the table.”

Tourism Australia can be turning its focus to home journey as soon as restrictions ease.

“Self-drive and road trips will certainly be a key focus, which as we know are segments very popular with the gray nomad market,” says Phillipa Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia.

Dan and Val Atheron traveled around Australia with their caravan with for nine months.

Dan and Val Atheron traveled round Australia with their caravan with for 9 months.

Courtesy Dan and Val Atheron

“Australians spent more than AU$80 billion on overnight trips last year and more than AU$26 billion on day trips. While domestic tourism alone certainly can’t fill the vacuum of lost international business, more Australians traveling domestically has the potential to deliver much-needed revenue.”

With many involved a few second Covid-19 wave, Clay argues trailer parks have a novel benefit for protected home journey.

“They’re in many cases already compliant to the health directive for social distancing requirements. By law, they are required to ensure there’s minimal distance between campsites and cabins, as well as the need to abide by strict cleaning standards. Furthermore, cabins and caravans do not have shared spaces or air-conditioned systems, as seen in hotels and motels.” he says.

When requested if they may return to the street when restrictions ease, the reply from many grey nomads is an amazing sure.

“As soon as it is safe to do so, no doubt,” says Pam Little. “My story is not over yet.”

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