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Australians are holidaying at home, for now

  • 27 May 2021
The road to Broome is desolate, the landscape surrounding it almost bereft of visible life. The pindan soil — so intensely pigmented it will stain your clothes forevermore — is cloaked in withering scrub and waves of spear grass bent double by the last of the wet season rains. But the emptiness is dispelled as I pull into Broome, a frontier city located on Western Australia’s Kimberley coast. The city centre, currently undergoing a major revamp, buzzes with pedestrians. Restaurants require booking. Down on Cable Beach, cameleers are lining up their charges for sunset rides and road-trippers are driving onto the wet sand and setting up camping chairs and cracking beers as they settle in for the show of a lifetime.

It’s taken a pandemic to convince Australians to holiday at home. Almost overnight we were locked out from a world that had until then held our adoring gaze and forced us to narrow our focus. People joyously rediscovered their suburbs and cities, regions and states; they stepped out tentatively at first, and then marched boldly as far as border lockdowns would allow them. Capitalising on this characteristically (and untempered) Australian desire to travel, Tourism Australia is now coaxing wanderlust-stricken ramblers to venture further still with its Epic Holidays campaign — part of the ongoing Holiday Here This Year campaign, which was launched in response to the January 2020 bushfires.

‘This new campaign aims to get Australians to travel further afield, take a longer holiday, and visit those parts of the country typically reliant on international tourism,’ says Dan Tehan, Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment. ‘Australians typically spend more overseas than foreign tourists spend in Australia, so we want Australians to treat their domestic holiday this year like an overseas trip.’

And so here I am, arriving in what feels like a foreign country. But though it’s true the Kimberley is (for those who don’t live there) a once-in-a-lifetime destination, it’s not my first time here: three years ago my family and I drove the Gibb River Road, a dream that had taken us years to realise; for the fabled tyranny of distance applies not only to Australia’s position relative to other continents, but to the proximity of its grandest destinations to the cities in which the majority of the population live. Travel to such distant places is often prohibitively expensive, but COVID has spurred many people to bite the bullet.

‘We were