Village on brink of ruin

THE Harrietville fires have brought Dinner Plain businesses to their knees, with one resident claiming the isolation could be the tipping point to a ghost town.

Only a cafe and supermarket remain open in the alpine village that has been cut off from the outside world for almost three weeks.

Both are losing money but hope for a miracle turnaround in fortunes and that the Great Alpine Road reopens sooner, rather than later.

Road blocks were shifted this week to allow access from Gippsland.

But yesterday about 50 business owners and residents from Mount Hotham and Dinner Plain pleaded their case to the member for Benalla Bill Sykes and Alpine Council chief Ian Nicholls.

Some have lost as much as $40,000.

They say the perception is that Dinner Plain has been decimated by fire or on the brink of a massive firestorm.

And because the area has not been declared a natural disaster zone and because firefighters have saved lodges and property, they are excluded from government emergency financial assistance.

Ally McEwan has kept the Mountain Kitchen open but says her time is limited.

She still has her bags packed ready to evacuate and believes, without a miracle, she can survive another four weeks.

“I’m down about 85 per cent on the same time last year,” she said.

“My suppliers know I can’t pay at the moment, the rates are on hold as is the GST but it won’t be, can’t be, forever.

“We don’t qualify for assistance.

“There is really no help for individual businesses and because I own this property, CentreLink says my assets rule me out of any payments.

“This community is strong but this is getting to everyone.”

Paul English has a hand in three businesses on the mountain — all are suffering. He puts his losses at $40,000 in real estate sales.

“We had 12 people coming to look at property – people who express interest in the winter traditionally come back now and buy,” he said.

“All have cancelled, despite us offering to fly them here.

“We run the supermarket and it’s turning over $150 a day and wages are $500, but we need to stay open just to show faith in the village.”

Usually 60 people live in the village. The numbers dropped to 18 at the height of the fire threat.

Professor David Arnott, who calls Dinner Plain home for half of the year, said the village was at a tipping point and needed immediate help to avoid a catastrophic collapse.

Mr Sykes said he would take up the challenge for the village.

“It is important we have a succinct plan to take to government, real measures that can help this community when the road re-opens,” he said.

“I also have the support of the Deputy Premier Peter Ryan and, with it, the support of the cabinet.”

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