It was the best of times, it was the worst of times to be travelling through rural NSW in a caravan.
Retirees Ian and Anne Gunn and Frank and Marlene Lovell hail from Temora, but came to the Snowy Valleys last week to deliver handmade quilts from their sewing group to fire-affected families in Batlow.
“We feel safer in the bush. We don’t want to go home, but we have to,” Anne said, acknowledging regulations introduced by the NSW government last week that caravan parks and camping grounds will be closed to any non-essential visitors to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
“It’s just fresh air and distance away from people.”
“I called the Tumut Police and said, ‘Are we alright to keep on going? We don’t want to do anything wrong,’” said Ian on Thursday. “He said, ‘yeah, no that’s fine.’”
The two couples have been listening to regular updates on the radio and checking in with local authorities, aware that the Covid-19 social distancing measures have to be upheld by all members of the community. They say they were told a ranger would start coming through, telling people to leave, when the public campsites were finally shut down.
Anne and Marlene helped make five quilts for Batlow families, giving them to Tina Billing from the Batlow CWA “at a distance” last week, wishing they could hug each other, but knowing that they shouldn’t. They left Temora on Monday of last week and were planning to be home by the weekend.
The couples are completely self-contained in their caravans, bringing their own food, water and toilet paper, but they agree it’s important everyone abides by the rules.
“They don’t want people like us in your area, because you’ve got to look after your own sick people,” acknowledged Anne. “We can understand that.”
“It’s just a matter of being sensible,” said Ian. He described the situation in Temora, where he said locals had to show their license before being able to purchase the most heavily-purchased items in supermarkets
“We like to stop in small towns and spend money, but this time… it’s not appropriate,” he said.
Anne added that it’s been difficult for families living on the land, coming into town once a month to do a huge grocery run, trying to feed their families and hired hands. With one-size-fits all limits on groceries, she said it’s been extremely hard for people around Temora who have to drive a long way to get to the shops and have large numbers of people to feed.
In 20 years of caravanning, Ian and Anne said they’ve never seen anything like the current Covid-19 crisis. The “biggest drama” they’ve encountered in the past was a near-miss with a famous gunman in the Northern Territory.
“They were looking for a murderer at Barrow Creek [in 2001] and we happened to be there on the same day as the fellow that went missing,” said Anne.
“That Englishman … Peter Falconio. We were there an hour, apparently, before he was,” added Ian.
“But nothing with this big an impact … to see some of the people hoarding is a bit disappointing.”
After two nights at Paddy’s River and two nights at Blowering Dam, the couples were considering breaking their journey in Wagga before getting home, but those plans were put in jeopardy when fresh restrictions were handed down by the government on Thursday evening, closing all caravan parks and ordering campers to return home as quickly as possible.