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Rural recession: A dry argument

Last week we asked a few of our readers running photographic businesses to give us a reality check – was David Jones head honcho correct in claiming Australia was sunk in something he called a ‘retail recession’, or was the record bumper profit result from JB Hi-Fi a better reflection of the state of play.

We asked long-time reader, supporter and occasional contributor to our websites, Chris Harris, who runs Bay Park Photos in Tamworth how his business was travelling, and his response is a reality check for those of us who are unaware of the devastation currently being wrought on country towns in NSW and Queensland largely due to drought.

Bay Park Photos in Peel Street, Tamworth.

Chris has been running Bay Park Photos with his wife Rene for over 20 years, moving from Port Macquarie to Tamworth five years ago to reduce lease costs and expand business.

He has always been an upbeat small businessperson, confident that quality printing, great customer service and sound product knowledge would prevail. Not so much in 2019.

He says his is now the only photographic store left standing in northwest NSW. He told us one sale rep he spoke to estimated there were only about a dozen ‘true independent photo outlets’ left in Australia. He also claims big camera suppliers such as Sony no longer want to deal with smaller regional retailers, which compounds the challenges for photo specialists away from the big cities.

‘I’m very worried about what the next two years will bring,’ Chris told Inside Imaging.

Here’s his full contribution:

Things are on very shaky ground in Tamworth. Everyone’s struggling due to the drought, and that is having an impact on the capital cities. I did have one sales rep who has probably never been outside Melbourne say he didn’t know we had a drought here, and when I said 75 percent of Australia is in drought he was incredulous, then admitted he doesn’t watch the news when I said it’s on the news constantly.

The current drought has been long and hard in northern NSW/southern Queensland.

When dealing with businesses you need to keep up to date with current affairs because everything that happens in the world affects trade.

I think the small businesses in Tamworth are weathering the drought better than the major retailers, judging by how some of the majors have either pulled the pin or are talking about it. Big ticket items have fallen flat and we’ve reduced our range dramatically. Basic accessories like bags, tripods and filters are still kicking along. The only overall area that is up in sales is our printing. With the agricultural show circuit, most are using us for their competition photos. People are after quality, and when you’re charging more than the supermarkets you have to deliver a quality product.

We’ve also let our contempt of local internet shoppers (those who want the cheapest price and expect us to match China’s prices) be well and truly known. They’re part of the problem for local businesses. If you get rid of them you can concentrate on those who want to support local businesses.

You can tell the stress of the drought is taking its toll on everybody. There’s no longer the upbeat happiness from staff that there once was. We used to see people from the far reaches of the New England region coming to Tamworth on a regular basis. They now only come if they need specialist medical treatment.

With business closures many people have been forced to relocate to places like Newcastle and Sydney. The smaller villages and towns have been the hardest hit and that has had a flow-on effect to the bigger centres. Some small centres are like ghost towns, with empty shops everywhere and drops in residents. Some schools in smaller towns have recorded drops in enrollments for the first time in living memory. The government has promised not to reduce teacher numbers. The government is actually doing more than the media is reporting. (We dodged a bullet with Labor having their arse handed to them on a platter!)

Tamworth is one week away from Level 5 water restrictions. Many other towns are out of water and the bores have run dry. People blame the government for the rivers drying up. The Murray Darling ran dry in the 1850s. It’s happened before and it will happen again. The Peel River (which runs through Tamworth)  hasn’t run in two years. All the water flowing throwing Tamworth is what’s being released from Chaffey Dam to feed the farms (without food we starve) and to keep the river alive. There’s very little irrigation happening. Farmers have planted crops in the hope it will rain. It’s estimated the drought will end in two years, and when it does it’ll see massive floods, which will wash tons of topsoil down the river.
– Chris Harris, Bay Park Photos



  1. Leon V Baravykas Leon V Baravykas August 30, 2019

    Thanks for the update and insight into this national disaster we tend to gloss over. I personally have had to re-invent my business to stay on top of the game. As long as we don’t give up, there’s a chance to win at whatever we realistically desire!

  2. Graeme Reeves Graeme Reeves September 1, 2019

    Tamworth is 6 months away from a collapse, business is struggling, Wests Leagues club is downsizing and water will run out in March 2019. The Council is to be thrown out in Sept 2020 as it has done nothing to stop the unsustainable growth.

  3. Chris Chris September 10, 2019

    Port Macquarie News did a panic story that, due to reduced flow in the Hastings River, Port Macquarie was going to have to go onto level 2 water restrictions. When we lived & operated our business there the town hit level 5 & was only weeks away from level 6, & then the rain came. This was before they built the 2nd dam. Oh, the injustice of it all, having to go onto level 2 & not use sprinklers or hose down hard surfaces. Sorry if you don’t like my lack of compassion, but if you’re too lazy to sweep a hard surface rather than hose it when you’re physically able to sweep it you deserve contempt. Businesses are being stopped from operating because they need water & yet beyond drinking you can’t use it for anything else, & with the Qld fires there is no available water to fight them.

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