By Graeme Kemlo

Victoria’s Yarra Valley, which starts about one hour’s drive east of Melbourne, has made representation to both political parties seeking to be excluded from the Melbourne lockdown. It is semi-rural and dotted with world-class wineries, B&Bs and towns that rely on tourism, yet Faye Hendricksen, a board member of Business Events Victoria says their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Even if Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews eases the current five kilometre driving limit for those in Melbourne’s locked-down ‘ring of steel’ he would need to allow hospitality venues to open.

“We have tried everything – spoken to the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, local government and our regional tourist office, trying to get that ‘ring of steel’ moved but we’re not achieving anything at this stage,” Faye said.

Faye, who is director of tourism and events at Rochford Wines at Coldstream, about 50 kilometres from the city says Rochford usually stages a number of corporate and major events, such as A Day On The Green where thousands of people come to watch world-class music acts, such as Rod Stewart, James Blunt and Simple Minds. Rochford does not expect to host another until late 2021.

But she said Rochford could safely host 50 guests in their two indoor spaces for business events under current distancing requirements in other states.

“If they do the 20-kilometre driving limit, it will help if hospitality is allowed to open.

“Having a 20-kilometre is fine, but if nobody is allowed to come to this or any other venue in the Yarra Valley and pick up a bottle of wine or a take-away pizza or cheese platter, then it is pointless.”

Faye spoke recently to operators who do similar things to Rochford in Queensland and New South Wales’ Hunter Valley and to coach companies “And they are pretty much back to normal, so let’s hope we can get things happening soon.”

“We have huge outdoor spaces where we would be happy to draw circles on the lawn for social distancing… our staff have been fantastic taking on a range of tasks they normally never do, pruning vines, delivering food and wine, driving tractors, but they need to get back in front of the customers,” she said.

She said there had been very few coronavirus cases in the region, which has a population of about 40,000.

“People are obviously a bit scared about COVID moving around too far… but the numbers are currently so low and comparing ourselves with other states of Australia I think it is time that we can move on from that.”