Southern hospitality not the infectious sort

WITH the McGowan government poised to lift restrictions on travel around the state, city slickers who thought they’d ride out Covid-19 down south might actually breathe a little sigh of relief.

Since the restrictions were imposed late in March, tribalism has been rife in regional areas, with non-residents reporting a campaign of discrimination and fear-mongering.

The message was written loud and clear on roadside signs as people drove into the picturesque village of Dunsborough: “Perth people go home – we don’t want you here.” 

Seventy-four-year-old Helen and her husband were left “gob-smacked” at how the doctor spoke to them when they went to a local clinic to get a flu shot. 

“The way she spoke to us… scolding us. I felt like a naughty little child,” Helen said.

Without introduction the doctor injected the needle into her arm, reportedly remarking coldly: “If you bleed, stick a band aid on.”

The Perth residents have been homeowners in the area for 35 years, but say they were told they weren’t wanted and were criticised as “western suburb people” who’d take up bed space and precious time.

The couple were then refused bulk billing and charged $65 for the appointment, despite other locals getting the shots for nothing.

Shire of Augusta Margaret River president Ian Earl defended the negative sentiments towards those isolating away from their own homes.

Selfish

“A lot of us thought it was selfish as they would use up the limited hospital and medical resources that the locals would need,” Mr Earl said.

Local surfers have been using social distancing laws and Covid fears as an excuse to intimidate others out of the water. 

Homemade signs have appeared at surf breaks threatening ‘non-locals’ with random ID checks and on the spot fines of up to $1000 for entering the water. 

“The Shire of Augusta Margaret River wish to advise that surfing in this area is no longer permitted to anyone who is not local and does not live within a 15 km radius of the break,” claimed a laminated letter embellished with the council’s emblem.

“People who have come to stay in their holiday houses due to Covid 19 are also not considered local and are required to… return to Perth immediately.” 

The council was aware of these signs and did not support them, but Cr Earl said he understood why people would put them up.

“Some were trying to protect the surf breaks from being closed down by others, the selfish ones, were trying to keep the breaks for themselves,” he said.

The crisis has exposed an underlying negativity towards second homeowners in the South West. However not everyone feels this way. 

Local business relies heavily on holiday seasons and part-time residents to keep them afloat. 

Dunsborough shop keeper Nicky is eager for visitors to return to the region when it is deemed safe. 

“Families staying at their holiday homes are not a problem as long as they’re doing the right thing,” she said.

by GEORGIA BURTON

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