We just spent 2 and a half days in and around Bicheno, and the place is pretty grim. We stayed at Silver Sands again, and the shabby charm we enjoyed the first time had worn off by the 2nd night. The place is frankly a dump and it’s a real shame.
The sign at the front of the establishment fell down a long time ago. There is a blackboard on the front of the old bar (now closed) and one of the staff said she used to write SILVER SANDS on it as big as she could, but it gets washed off by the rain and she doesn’t bother now. The old dining room is now the Dog’s Breakfast Trading Company, a strange bazaar of tat. The old bar is now used for storage. The swimming pool which was the centre of the whole complex has been decked over and now has two windswept picnic tables on it.
Our room this time was smaller. When we arrived there was a bottle cap on the floor, the shower was dripping/running, one bedside lamp didn’t work, and one of those low-watt bulbs went flick flickety-flick and buzzed even when turned off. The bathroom was horrid - the shower ran into a strangely shaped bath which was seemingly designed to be impossible to clean. If you want to cheer yourself up with a cup of tea, the only way to fill the kettle was to bale water into it with a mug. The whole thing had a sort of East German Youth Camp feeling about it.
What’s most alarming is that the staff are shambling around grimly, going through the motions but as guests you feel like you are not really part of the picture. The place is staying open for some reason but hospitality certainly isn’t it.
We had breakfast on the first morning in Silver Sands’ White Dog Cafe. We were the only customers, but the lone staff member didn’t seem glad to see us. I ordered from the menu the “muesli with yoghurt and banana”. She came back to dolefully inform me that “We haven’t got a banana - we’ve had so few people in, that I got sick of having to put them in the freezer”.
The next morning we walked up the road and had breakfast at Pork’s Place. Mr Pork was a lot like Alf from Home and Away - a breezy how-you-goin’-fella type with a grin and a chuckle. But when we asked him about Silver Sands he was pretty dark on the place and on the owner, Jan Cameron. He thinks she’s choking the life out of the town. She has bought upwards of 30 properties and not done anything with them. In his view she is “doing it for the Capital Gains Tax” - maybe trying to make a loss to offset profits somewhere else. But her main investment that I’m aware of is the Chickenfeed chain and that's going south rapidly. None of it makes much sense.
The staff are all ladies of a certain age, (the type Kaz Cooke calls Lorraines) and they seem weary and morose. There was one bloke gardening, he seemed a little brighter. When we were packing up to go, Marcus and I were poking around a strange hexagonal shed in the grounds. It had broken windows, and inside you could see all sorts of gear, and really large cauldron in the centre. The shed roof was just an awning running around the edge - in the middle it was open to the sky. One of the Lorraines called over to us “that used to be the craybake - we’d get 40 or 50 people in there for an evening and cook up the crays in the pot”. Someone flicked a ciggie into the sawdust bin that was the fuel for the fire, and the whole thing went up.
I asked the lady if she had five minutes for a chat. She said had worked there for 36 years, and it used to be the premier beach resort in Tasmania. She didn’t know what the future of the place was, or why the owner was doing what she was doing. No wonder everyone’s so grim. Apart from one of the four staff at the IGA supermarket, and Mr Pork, everyone else we met in Bicheno looked like they had just run over their own cat. Mrs Pork looked like having four hungry customers for breakfast at her establishment was just the last thing she needed. We tried very hard all over town to be friendly and got very little back.
After the recent fires around Bicheno, on the Tasman Peninsula and in the Upper Derwent Valley, Tasmanians were told to get out to these areas and spend money, come and stay, we are open for business etc. We were keen to do this, and arrived ready to spend, which for a renowned tight-arse like me is pushing the boat out somewhat. I don’t know enough about it to just blame Jan Cameron, but something in Bicheno is really not right.