Taste of Huon festival injects much-needed cash after fires

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In the aftermath of this year’s bushfires, businesses in Tasmania’s Huon Valley are hoping the annual Taste of the Huon festival will help them rise from the ashes.

Key points:

  • The annual Taste of the Huon festival runs for two days from Sunday in Ranelagh
  • The region was devastated by bushfires and smoke over a month ago
  • Businesses say there has been a downturn in visitors to the area

A dozen fires in Tasmania’s south-west are still burning, with the Riveaux Road fire in the Huon Valley blazing through more than 64,000 hectares.

The Tahune Airwalk tourist attraction has been devastated, with the fire service confirming that although the visitor centre was saved, timber boardwalks and “display areas” had been lost.

Despite this, the annual two-day food, arts and entertainment festival kicked off on Sunday in Ranelagh outside Huonville.

The owner of Elsewhere Vineyard, Eve Knight, is counting on the festival to help her business recover.

“When the fires were in full force, the traffic stopped,” she said.

“We didn’t have anyone coming because of the smoke and the obvious concern.

“Business is still really quiet. The fires have certainly taken probably 80 per cent of the business away.”

She said they decided not to harvest the grapes this year because of the amount of smoke.

“We have a very short season and our cellar closes soon so we’re really struggling to capture as much business as we can, which is why we’re here,” she said.

“It’s pretty hard, but you’ve just got to keep going because if you think about it too long, you get very depressed.”

‘The valley’s not burnt out’

Festival manager Roger Oates said this year is a pivotal year in the event’s 27-year history.

“This year the importance is so much greater on the stalls and we’ve got stalls from Dover, Geeveston and Franklin which didn’t do any business for three weeks,” he said.

“It’s massively important to really enforce that the valley’s not burnt out.

“It’s so important for the stallholders and the valley to get people down here.”

He said the community was getting back on its feet.

“I think people were very scared and so many businesses weren’t doing any business,” he said.

“But in the last two to three weeks they’re starting to turn around and they’re starting to make money.”

Huon Valley Mayor Bec Enders said local businesses need tourists to start returning to the area.

“We’ve lost a major tourist attraction — Tahune,” she said.

“Tahune was on track to bring 110,000 visitors down this year. So we need to go a good way in replacing that foot traffic.”

She said the morale within the community was building.

“The community is very comfortable at the moment,” she said.

“We do still know of course that there is the smouldering of some of the fires but they’re rejoicing the work that the fire fighters have done.”