November 24th, 2023Town ‘open for business’ post tragedy
Daylesford and Hepburn Shire are definitely open for business and open for visitors, Hepburn Shire Mayor Cr Brian Hood says. Cr Hood said in the aftermath of the (November 5, Daylesford) accident many traders were left wondering if they should close, remain closed or be open for visitors and the vital tourism trade.
“They were looking for guidance, because they didn’t want to be disrespectful, but straight away senior police and other experts said ‘no, you plough on and start to build a sense of normality’ and that gave traders the peace of mind to do that. We are hardly ever confronted with anything like this and there is no script to follow. But the message is we are open.” Cr Hood said the community was moving on but “slowly as you would expect”.
“The council’s primary concern at the time of the incident, and given our role, was one of the welfare of the community, our staff, volunteers and other organisations. Along with Central Highlands Rural Health we got counselling in place very quickly and the take-up rate was very strong.
“We are now continuing with the counselling but also doing operational things in the background and being very mindful of moving at the right sort of pace and taking on board the right sort of advice. We want to avoid any immediate kneejerk reactions.”
Cr Hood said with the reopening of the Royal Hotel, the outdoor tables had been moved slightly, and council was now looking at other outdoor dining areas across the shire. “We are breaking it down into immediate actions we can and should take, and what the longer-term actions are. So, we are not only looking at this particular site, but we are taking into account outdoor dining areas across the shire.
“No-one would have expected this sort of thing to happen at this site and outdoor dining is very popular throughout the shire,” Cr Hood said. “We, like many councils, and in line with state government guidelines, encouraged outdoor dining during and after Covid as part of economic recovery and also to give people some normality.
“Yes, it is council-owned land, but a valid permit was in place, and those tables had been there long before Covid and they stayed during and after Covid. They are the facts.” Cr Hood said while the police and Coroner’s Office investigations would take some time, the council would not wait to take any actions it believed were needed to improve safety throughout the shire.
“Obviously we will very much take on board whatever comes out of those two investigations, but in the meantime, we are talking about what we can do now.” Cr Hood said while some media reports had said locals had long been calling for safety improvements on Albert Street, calling it a “dangerous stretch of road”, in his three years with council he had never been made aware of any issues.
“You wouldn’t consider Albert Street a dangerous street. Unless they are mixing it up with Howe Street? But sometimes freak accidents do happen.” Cr Hood said the idea of a memorial for the site had been raised but would need careful consultation with the community. Cultural issues also had to be taken into account.
“The last thing we want to do is something wrong or inappropriate or that annoys a section of the community. The Dja Dja Wurrung have also said they could hold a smoking/cleansing ceremony but we haven’t made any decisions yet. We just need to move at a careful pace.”
Cr Hood also praised the first responders including Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, the CFA and the SES, along with community members who “sprang into action”.
“To have four helicopters taking people to Melbourne and others on the road to Ballarat in 45 minutes, that was just brilliant. And we are mindful that the CFA and SES are staffed by locals and volunteers, and with the members of the community, they just all did as much as they possibly could with no hesitation. “Fortunately, we are a tight-knit, small community and when something like this happens, people get strength from each other.”
Words: Donna Kelly