The Covid-19 Pandemic sent shockwaves throughout the country when it was first detected in 2020. The uncertainty and chaos that ensued caused individual states to implement hard lockdowns and enforcement of their borders to reduce the movement of people throughout the country.
One example of this was the Victorian and New South Wales border. At the time, it was a simple decision to set the hard line where each state’s territories ended. Unfortunately, in practice, this decision ended up dividing an inland community of over 100,000 into two. When the first border closures were announced, a border checkpoint was established in the heart of Albury Wodonga. These checkpoints were primarily manned and operated by the Australian military and NSW police. Most of the police officers at the border checkpoints around the twin cities were from Sydney and were forced to spend weeks away from their families. For context, Albury Wodonga is approximately 550kms away from Sydney, or five and half hours by car without stops.
This is the story of Albury/Wodonga businesses and their experiences with the border closures and their corresponding checkpoints. It also touches on the current state of play of the Albury/Wodonga economy and the quality of its recovery.
I was fortunate enough to source comments from several business owners from a variety of sectors. Throughout my interviews, I managed to speak to people from both the retail and service industries, as well as gather insight from the Deputy Mayor of Albury, Steve Bowen.
Whilst all the businesses mentioned managed to make it through the pandemic and the border closures that divided their community, it wasn’t without issues. One business owner I spoke to had to change their entire legal structure to continue operating during this period, another story involved a regional businesswoman who settled on a hotel days before the first lockdowns. Due to the timing of the settlement, she was unable to obtain government assistance.
I found Rob Martin was in an incredibly unique position to comment on the recovery of regional business outside of Albury/Wodonga due to his customer base spanning beyond the region. Rob’s “Stacks of Snacks” company delivers confectionery and chips to businesses across Southern NSW and speaks directly with regional business owners and managers who provide first-hand feedback on how their businesses and their communities are recovering and adapting in a post-pandemic business world.
One thing that was consistent in the Albury/Wodonga area compared to the rest of the country is that most businesses were forced to digitally adapt and innovate/reinvent themselves to remain relevant both during the pandemic and post-pandemic.
If these business owners’ thoughts are anything to go off, there may be light at the end of the tunnel sooner than some experts may have predicted.