Kevin and Kylie Gee have only just moved to Talbingo, taking ownership of the local supermarket almost immediately after the fires passed through. They’re only barely locals themselves, but the former Central Coast residents understand the need for small towns to stick together to wait out the panic buying which has been crippling supermarkets in larger cities.
“The shelves are empty of toilet paper,” said Kevin.
“I have a very meager supply of twin packs that I have in the back storeroom. I’ve got a sign up saying limited supplies for local people.”
Other towns, like Borowa and Kinglake in regional Victoria, have reported seeing chartered busses coming from Melbourne and Canberra, full of tourists looking for in-demand items like rice and toilet paper.
“We haven’t seen the busloads of people come through, but I’ve had some visitors over the last week or so looking for toilet paper,” said Kevin. “They’ll buy other things but they’re looking for toilet paper.”
He calls them “TP tourists.” While the tourists don’t appear to be coming for Talbingo just for their 2-ply prize, Kevin said about 50% of the people passing through stop to ask.
He says it’s fairly easy to tell who’s who: “If I see them come out of a Winnebago, I just say we’re out of stock.”
The locals also have a different attitude, according to Kevin, shopping sensibly and not seeming to panic buy at all. He doesn’t carry a large enough quantity of items to make it worthwhile for people to travel all the way up the mountain to raid his shelves.
“We don’t have like 200 packets of pasta lined up,” said Kevin, putting the number of pasta packets closer to “half a dozen.” The supermarket’s meat and bread are sourced locally, with no fear of shortages from his suppliers.
“The locals are very pragmatic here,” he said.
“Country folk are different to city folk. Country folk are used to making do.”
Personally, Kevin said he’s relieved to be in Talbingo at a time like this, describing the scene in Australia’s cities as apocalyptic. He’s not panicking, instead he’s focused on building up the supermarket’s new Monday pizza night and guarding local grocery security.
“We welcome any tourists,” said Kevin, “But people that are coming specifically and raiding our shelves for toilet paper; I’m quite interested in keeping them safe for my regular guys.”