Page last updated at 21:42 GMT, Monday, 3 August 2009 22:42 UK

Australian hopes for a swift recovery

Phil Mercer
BBC News, Gosford, New South Wales

Brisbane Water
Gosford is seeking fresh investment in the city

Luck and hard work are underpinning hopes for a swift economic recovery in the Australian city of Gosford, where businessman Tim Miller is confident that the spiral of depressed sales and sleepless nights will soon come to an end.

As traffic roars past the front door of his carpet warehouse on an industrial estate an hour's drive north of Sydney, inside the place is deserted.

The global economic shock that sent tremors to distant corners has rattled companies of all hues across Australia and while some have crumpled, others have been able to hang on.

"You do wake up in the middle of the night thinking of sometimes quite small things that bug you," Tim Miller explains. "My wife and I share this business. We've been at times on the breadline, wondering where the next sale is coming from, and all of a sudden someone will come in and give you enough cash to see you through.

Tim Miller
I think the worst is over. The harder you work, the luckier you get
Tim Miller, businessman

"It's been pretty quiet. Our retail sales have been about 65% of what we expected them to be. We've been running uphill against the slope just to maintain our position."

Growing optimism

There is a belief in many quarters that Australia may be over the most damaging part of the slump. Some of the economy's vital signs are responding well: the local share market is in buoyant form, the Australian dollar is stronger and there is plenty of talk that the Reserve Bank may lift interest rates before the end of the year.

"I think the worst is over," says Mr Miller. "The harder you work, the luckier you get. We're working hard to grow our business and we're getting there. In the next 12 months we'd expect our sales to go up."

Wisely, perhaps, the federal government has sought to temper such optimism. Senior ministers have insisted that sustained recovery is still a long way off and that unemployment will continue its gradual assault in the months ahead.

Building work in Gosford
A decline in construction work has led to increased unemployment

In Gosford, a busy regional hub that sits on the picturesque banks of Brisbane Water on the New South Wales Central Coast, declining property and construction markets have put a solid dent into employment.

"Locally, the biggest impact has been on jobs," explains Nic Pasternatsky from the city council. "I think everyone was preparing for the worst and it hasn't quite happened that way, although a lot of people have suffered."

'Cut-throat competition'

While federal and state authorities have unleashed various stimulus measures to prop up a faltering economy, Gosford has also embarked on an ambitious grassroots project to regenerate the city centre and attract fresh investment.

"It is very cut-throat because there are other regional centres in Australia which are trying to do the same thing, but you need to do whatever it takes. We will come out of this stronger," Mr Pasternatsky says.

As the hum of building work punctuates a sunny winter's day in the main shopping plaza, Deborah Warwick, a vice president of the Gosford Chamber of Commerce, remains wary about the health of the regional economy.

We've got seven children and 13 grandchildren and thankfully none of them have lost their jobs, and that was one big worry that I had
Sandra O'Malley, pensioner

"Confidence is definitely lower than where it could be," she tells me. "Generally, the feeling is quite cautious out there. People are sitting back waiting to find out which way things will go."

Ultimately, Australia's fate will be decided by forces agitating way beyond the horizon, in the monster economies of China, Japan and the United States.

Global events have hurt most Australians but in Gosford, Sandra O'Malley, a retiree, believes this vast nation has managed to escape the full impact of the crisis.

"We've got seven children and 13 grandchildren and thankfully none of them have lost their jobs, and that was one big worry that I had," she says.

"I think we have seen the worst of it in Australia, definitely. We're booking holidays for next year and hoping we can afford it, but we still enjoy a good life."

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