How your empty esky could revive bushfire-ravaged ghost towns

Olivia Lambert
News Editor

A simple idea stemming from an empty esky has turned into a booming campaign to help victims struggling to bounce back from devastating bushfires.

Businesses in holiday destinations that should be pocketing from an influx of summer tourists have instead been operating in ghost towns after bushfires have roared through.

In Victoria’s northeast, Bright-based Alpine Shire Council Peter Roper said a lot of local businesses were losing a large chunk of their income while Bright Brewery Operations manager Rupert Shaw said he’s felt a pinch.

“The town is still empty. The only people around in the area in Bright and the surrounds are local people, and not everyone returned (after evacuating),” Mr Shaw said.

He believes local full-time staff may be forced to go part-time, while casuals could be dropped, if the situation rolls on for some time.

"We just don't know what's going to happen," Mr Shaw said.

But three Melbourne friends, Erin Boutros, Eleanor Baillieu and Elise Mason, came up with a plan to inject life back into bushfire-ravaged areas.

Empty Esky is a campaign to get more visitors to the struggling areas, with Aussies encouraged to take a road trip with an empty esky to fill with local produce.

Challenges are also posted on social media to urge people to buy produce online.

Eleanor Baillieu (left) and friends Erin Boutros and Elise Mason (right) developed the Empty Esky campaign to help struggling businesses. Source: Supplied

“We just wanted to see what we could do for local businesses and the local economy,” Ms Baillieu told Yahoo News Australia.

“It’s a long-term solution. Businesses are still open but tourists have left the areas and businesses are impacted.

“We encourage the Aussie road trip – even just an hour out of Sydney and Melbourne – and take an empty esky to fill it with produce.”

The Empty Esky Instagram page gained more than 10,000 followers in just 24 hours and Ms Baillieu said people pledging to take a road trip included model Steph Claire Smith and TV host Rachel Finch.

The Melburnian said she was surprised the campaign got as much traction as it did.

“We thought we’d try and do something for the local community and it kicked off and people are loving it,” she said.

“It’s just so easy – you don’t have to go out for a week, just make it a day trip to somewhere nearby and support the local tourism in Australia.”

Ms Baillieu said businesses were already benefiting from Empty Esky, with a business in Beechworth in Victoria’s northeast packed with tourists despite fires recently sweeping through.

“Businesses like Beechworth Berries – they lost all their tourists due to the fires and had no one coming through, but then they were nearly plucked out,” she said.

“It’s been amazing to see the Australian community coming together, taking the pledge and saying, ‘yeah, let’s go on a road trip in six months’ time and support these people’.”

To get involved head to Instagram and share your pledge to visit a fire-affected town. If you know any impacted businesses who would benefit from the support contact Empty Esky.

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