FIRES SPECIAL: Blazes burn up workloads for bushfire printers

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Printers in bushfire-affected regions are battling a decline in workload as tourists flee stricken areas and local businesses see a major downturn in trade.

Merimbula on the NSW South Coast was shrouded in smoke on Sunday morning. (Image: Alan Mogridge)
A van from Excell Printing in Merimbula on the NSW South Coast, which was shrouded in smoke on Sunday morning. (Image: Alan Mogridge)

Speaking to Print21, owners and managing directors of print businesses in the NSW South Coast, South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, and Victoria’s East Gippsland regions have expressed concerns about the lingering secondary impacts the disastrous bushfire season will have on trade.

Alan Mogridge, managing director of Excell Printing Group, which has branches in Batemans Bay, Merimbula, and Pambula on the NSW South Coast, said that while the three Excell locations have not been directly affected – though the fire at Batemans Bay came within a kilometre of the premises, and there was plenty of ash to sweep up afterwards – it will be difficult to quantify the effect on the business.

“The biggest issue for all South Coast businesses is what indirect impact the fires will have in terms of trading, and that’s yet to work its way through the economy. If businesses have been burnt out, for instance, as they have been in Batemans Bay, the question we have is how that’s going to affect our business.

“What we don’t know is what those businesses are going to do – are they going to pack up and reopen, or will there be a period of time before they get back on their feet?” he said.

According to Mogridge, the test will be the flow-on from reduced tourist numbers in the region.

“We rely heavily on tourism in the South Coast, and after an event like that where we told all the tourists to leave, now we want them all back. How long it’ll take them to come back and enjoy our beautiful coast, we don’t know.”

Stu Dawes of Big Quince Print, located in Kingscote on Kangaroo Island, says he and wife Alice, who co-owns the business, have been “spending more time protecting ourselves from fires than printing”.

“Our print shop is located in a 1960s timber school art room two kilometres from the Menzies fire. It was the perfect venue for a printing shop, but also the perfect venue for a burnout.

“On Friday night we were watching the glow of the bright red fire all evening, and we evacuated our kids to our parents’ house at Pelican Lagoon. Alice, my wife, the director of the business, was in Kingscote at the incident room for the CFS, while I was on watch and act at our property. When we got home at 7:30-8:00, there was a vertical black cloud with ash falling out of it like snow,” he said.

Dawes told Print21 that, while the Kingscote shop has not been directly hit by the blazes, business is dying away as people look to get off Kangaroo Island and back to the South Australian mainland as quickly as possible.

“People are cancelling bookings. We got through everything on the books within about two hours on Tuesday and were wondering what to do with our employee afterwards. We kept him on our Konica Minolta toner machine and on the desk.

“We were producing high quality brochures for the sheep studs, and that’s really going to hit us, because they’ve lost all their stock,” he said.

Smoke rises above Bairnsdale, East Gippsland, Victoria.
Smoke rises above Bairnsdale, East Gippsland, Victoria. (Image: James Yeates Media)

In East Gippsland, Black Rainbow Printing has stopped taking incoming calls, with all contact by phone now going to a voicemail message explaining the situation; the company is still in production. James Yeates Printing, based in Bairnsdale, has also noticed a slowing of the local economy according to managing director Bob Yeates.

“People are distracted – nearly everyone in town will know someone who’s lost a home or a property. People in rural towns are more closely connected than people in a city environment.

“A couple of politicians have pushed work our way that doesn’t normally come, and we’ve been printing it for them. They’re based in Canberra, but they’ve sent us work, and we appreciate that, it’s very considerate of them – these days you can get printing done anywhere in Australia,” he said.

James Yeates also produces a number of local newspapers including the Bairnsdale Advertiser and East Gippsland News, and these papers are experiencing their own difficulties, according to Bob.

“January’s normally pretty slow anyway, but there’s been no activity in the streets, so our advertisers have had to cut back on their ad spend. People have been staying indoors and not going out shopping due to the smoke.

“We’ve had tremendous support from independent groups in Melbourne bringing fresh food to displaced people, which is heartening for the community to know people down there have been that concerned,” he said.

Despite the fires, however, all three businesses are determined not to give up or back down.

“There’s so much concern coming in from everywhere for people who have lost homes, lives, properties, stock,” said Yeates. “The most important thing now is to get the aid quickly to those in need.

Alan Mogridge told Print21 that all staff are fine and still at work, production is continuing, and tourism will return to the South Coast.

“We’ll get through it – it’s a lovely part of the world and people will want to come here, but it’s still early days. We’ll be working to turn it around,” he said.

Big Quince has been wholesaling paper to firefighters for photocopying plans and maps, is selling books through the “Book Nook” bookshop arm of its business, and is also looking to expand its signmaking arm, said Dawes.

“We’re going to stick to it, we’re not giving up. We have no intention of leaving this beautiful island,” he said.

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