‘It’s nuts’: Regional residents bordering outer Melbourne beg for freedom from lockdown
Regional Victorians just outside of Melbourne are begging for freedom from lockdown as the blurred metro-country divide continues to devastate tiny towns.
Localities with rolling hills, tiny towns and sprawled out populations were never considered part of the city pre-Covid, but towns with populations of less than 3,000 have remained caught up in metropolitan Melbourne’s lockdowns since the start of the pandemic.
Emma McCabe is a resident of Woori Yallock, about 56km from the city in the Yarra Valley.
Despite only having a post office, a couple of hairdressers and a Food Works in town, the area has been placed under the same lockdown restrictions as the inner city.
Just a handful of cases have been recorded in the areas of Seville, Yarra Junction and Warburton in the past 18 months.
“We are at least 45 minutes from an emergency department and definitely don’t think we fit into the Metro Melbourne category but apparently we do – it’s a bit nuts,” Mrs McCabe said.
“We’re a year and half into this, I just don’t think it’s right or makes sense anymore considering where we live.
“If we were open and able to move around more, hairdressers and restaurants could open up and we could travel around the area and support those businesses.”
Businessman Steve Frazer who operates Stones of the Yarra Valley has had every part of his business affected by the lockdown.
The business has five restaurants, a craft brewery, urban winery, a boutique hotel, a conference centre and small gymnasium, and before Covid hosted about 250 weddings per year.
Mr Frazer said he was scrambling to keep his full time staff employed because the industry was such a mess.
“Every single part of our business is closed, we have 107 staff who for 18 months have been off and on,” he said.
“There are empty shops around Healesville and around the region.
“People are hurting, there’s some pretty serious businesses out here that have been damages and it’s going to take us a long time to claw it back.”
The Yarra Valley is just one of a few local government areas in the predicament, stuck in a lockdown limbo between Melbourne and the country.
The localities caught up in the restrictions include the Mitchell and Hume shires to the north, Wyndham to the west, and Cardinia and the Mornington Peninsula to the southeast.
Local councils and politicians have made repeated calls over the past year to resolve the issue, separating the lockdown areas by postcode.
“Since the pandemic began, we have consistently had very low case numbers in the Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges, which are more reflective of regional Victoria rates, and data shows we’ve had no positive cases during this current outbreak,” said Yarra Ranges Mayor Fiona McAllister.
“Our mix of urban, hills and regional towns in the Yarra Valley makes our municipality one of the most unique in the state, which is something we’re very proud of.
“Unfortunately, it also means that our regional areas have been unfairly swept into the metropolitan classification for COVID-19 restrictions.”
The council has argued that many of the towns are isolated from Melbourne with a low-risk lifestyle.
“Being classified as a metropolitan Melbourne Council area makes sense only if you’re in our suburban areas of Mooroolbark, Lilydale, Chirnside or Kilsyth – Warburton, Millgrove and our outer areas are about as far from metropolitan as you can get,” Cr McAllister said.
“We don’t have the access to services, public transport or the population density that our metropolitan counterparts do, and while we understand the blanket approach by the State Government to enforce restrictions, our regional areas have been suffering as a result.”
“We’ve seen and heard of businesses struggling to make ends meet, mental health calls increasing and people doing it tough in every corner.”
Stones of the Yarra has now entered some of the biggest financial months of the year, from October through to December, where the majority of weddings and social events happen.
Mr Frazer said he was disappointed by the way the Victorian government had lumped his regional area in with metropolitan Melbourne, and the continued restrictions for regional hospitality businesses.
“The frustration we see is the government in NSW has been a lot more pragmatic in terms of selecting LGAs and locking them down separately, we’ve just been lumped in with the metropolitan section,” he said.
“I think the only thing that keeps us going is that it’s not our fault, we haven’t created this.”
As regional Victoria prepares to exit lockdown on Friday, Mrs McCabe says there has been a missed opportunity for those living in the bordering areas.
“Everyone wants to support local, the sad thing is we’re close to home but we can’t open up and support those people struggling,” she said.
“If we were classed as regional we could work, get out of the house and it would just completely change the mindset of a lot of people.”
Originally published as ‘It’s nuts’: Regional residents bordering outer Melbourne beg for freedom from lockdown
Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.
Sign up for our emails