Bruny Island tourist influx a double-edged sword for those calling it home
Bruny Island is a microcosm of all the things that draw tourists to Tasmania – wilderness, beaches and fine food and wine.
The permanent population of the island, which lies off Tasmania’s south-east, numbers just 800, but each year an estimated 150,000 visitors make the shorty ferry ride from mainland Tasmania to visit.
- Bruny Island is visited by 150,000 tourists annually
- There are fears services are not keeping pace with growth
- Some residents are pushing for a Bruny Island board to have better communication
Bruny – as it is known locally – is one of the southern-most points in Australia.
Its north and south islands are divided by a narrow strip of land its heart, with rugged sea cliffs, wild forests as well as rich farming land.
The few permanent residents once made a living from farming and forestry, and shack owners and avid campers called it home over summer.
But now it is more about tourism than trees.
Like Cradle Mountain and Wineglass Bay, it is one of Tasmania’s most ‘Instagram-able’ locations.
For the island’s residents, the influx has brought a number of challenges.
The ferry line is often congested, there are not enough public toilets and rubbish bins, and car write-offs on windy dirt roads happen almost weekly.
The residents, tourism operators and council are grappling with how to manage the tourism boom.
Social media spreads the word
Alex Heroys, from Destination Southern Tasmania, said along with fresh produce and iconic scenery, Bruny Island offered visitors a “disconnection”.
“It has a very authentic spread of products,” he said.
Mr Heroys said social media had spread the word about the island, and photos drew international visitors in particular.
“The profile of Bruny has risen, and people have also fallen in love with the nature aspect of it,” he said.
“A lot of the experiences we take for granted are completely unachievable for an awful lot of the urbanised population of international visitors.
“Something as simple as tasting an oyster that came out of the ocean that morning is almost unheard of for a lot of people.”
Kingborough Mayor Dean Winter said Bruny Island was a unique experience.
“There’s something about jumping on the ferry and heading over,” he said.
He said businesses like Rob Pennicott’s boat tours had transformed the island.
“The island is a great example of entrepreneurship and growing a market that didn’t previously exist.
“We do need to protect the way of life of the residents, and it’s a great place to visit but we need to make sure we can do both.”
‘An absolute Mecca’
Tour guide Rick Brooke has lived on Bruny for 33 years, and enjoys showing off his home to tourists.
Some days the company, Bruny Island Safaris, has three full busloads of visitors to show around.
“Every year it’s getting more and more,” he said.
“Word of mouth and reviews seems to get a lot of people here.”
He believes the island is big enough to manage the amount of visitors it receives, and said organised tours meant large groups were contained and were not too much of an annoyance to residents.
“There’s plenty of room, we get around the island with very little impact,” he said.
“There’s more jobs on this island now than there’s ever been.”
At the popular Bruny Island Cheese Company, the car park is regularly packed with cars and has had to extend, and last summer a parking warden was introduced to manage the traffic.
Over at the island’s only pub, business has never been better.
Hotel Bruny’s Tash Daniels is a resident of 15 years, and has worked at the pub for seven.
She said on a busy summer’s day, the pub can serve up 300 meals to hungry tourists, locals and shack owners.
“From now onwards we’ll be pretty much booming for the next couple of months here on Bruny, it’ll be an absolute Mecca of people coming and going,” she said.
“It’s such a great time to be on the island, we just love it.”
The off season now lasts just six to eight weeks in winter.
Tash Daniels says jobs on the island have been a bonus for locals and their kids. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)
‘Not enough rubbish bins’
Hidden amongst the island’s beauty are signs it’s being over-loved.
Toilet paper and litter scattered throughout the bush near camp sites highlights the pressure on infrastructure.
Bruny Island Community Association president Megan Weston moved to the island 18 years ago, drawn by its beaches and sense of community.
“Bruny Island is a small community, a really active community, and who could live anywhere better?” Ms Weston said.
But, she is concerned by the growth in tourism.
“We have had an incredible increase in road side litter, as well as dumping in the bush because there’s not enough rubbish bins,” she said.
Ms Weston is also worried about water supply, especially with increases in short-term accommodation.
“We have a real problem with water, we only have one potable water supply on Bruny and its a finite supply,” she said.
Megan Weston is worried about pressures on water supply and car crashes. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)
There are also more cars on the road.
“We have an increasing number of visitors and an increasing number of accidents,” Ms Weston said.
“Last week we had three crashes on Lighthouse Road, people aren’t used to driving on dirt roads.”
Ms Weston said further growth in tourism will need to be managed with the environment at the forefront, and promises of government funding will need to come through to upgrade infrastructure.
Jobs growth welcome
The influx of visitors combined with the needs of shack owners, campers and residents saw the State Government introduce a second ferry in 2014.
Ms Daniels said as long as the island’s infrastructure can keep up, tourism was welcome.
“The ferry service needs improving, and our public amenities need a bit more work,” she said.
“But it’s a very good thing for the island to have that base of actually having work for the islanders, and young kids not having to move off the island,” she said.
Long-term resident and oyster grower Bill Hughes has also seen the tourism growth spurt, and like Ms Daniels, welcomes the job creation.
“It’s fantastic for young families living on the island, it’s given a lot of work to people down here who would otherwise have to move off the island,” he said.
“They’ve been able to engage in work as tour guides or in hospitality.”
Council focuses on basics: Mayor
The Kingborough Council is well aware of the issues the island is facing, and as a regional council has its own challenges in managing the tourism growth.
It is responsible for services like public toilets, main roads and rubbish.
“We know there’s huge stress on the island itself, on its residents but also on the infrastructure, and that’s why council has been investing as much as it can to upgrade some of that infrastructure,” Cr Winter said.
Kingborough mayor Dean Winter has raised the option of tourism levy. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)
“For every one dollar of revenue that we receive from Bruny Island we put $1.25 back into the island, so we’re investing more than what some people think we should but it’s absolutely required.”
Mr Winter said it was not just a Bruny Island problem, and that regions along Tasmania’s east coast were going through the same challenges.
“All councils have the same issues in how to deal with a tourism boom that isn’t contributing a lot in a revenue sense, but creates huge costs for us in an expenditure sense,” he said.
Push for island board
Due to Bruny Island’s special needs, an advisory committee made up of residents meets with the Kingborough Council to address the island’s issues.
Positions are self-nominated and some residents feel it is not adequate, and is hamstrung by layers of bureaucracy.
There is a push from some residents to create a democratically elected board to replace the committee.
Mr Hughes said a board would be a more efficient way to get responses from the Government.
“When it comes to dealing with matters of State Government, we have to go through the Council to the Government, then the answers have to come back through the council,” he said.
“It’s a convoluted system, but the board proposal would give us to speak directly to the relevant state government department, for example tourism and forestry.”
Bruny Island oyster grower Bill Hughes would like to see a democratically elected board establish to manage island issues. (ABC News: Peter Curtis)
Ms Weston said she did not see the need for a board.
“I can’t see why we need a seperate board like a mini-council in this day and age, it’s not economically viable,” she said.
Cr Winter said the council was concerned by the idea of a board.
“We would be concerned by the establishment of an almost de-facto council on Bruny Island, and my personal view is that I would have concerns about why you would elect a board of people when we spend a lot of time on Bruny Island listening to residents already,” he said.
“We are very aware of what the issues are and we’re doing everything we can to address those concerns.”
Adventure Bay on Bruny’s south island is a tourist magnet all year around. (Supplied: tas_maniacs)