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A community stronger than any bushfire

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A community stronger than any bushfire


I feel like I’ve been watching a horror movie unfold over the last few days.


Sixty-eight homes destroyed. Almost 50 more badly damaged. And all in the little community I grew up in, a community that means everything to me.


It’s a terrible, helpless feeling watching it all unfold on the TV news each night.


I can’t imagine what it’s like for the people in Tathra who have lost everything. Their homes, their possessions, their memories all gone in the space of a few hours. Some of them made it to the emergency shelter at the Bega Showgrounds with only the clothes they were wearing at the time.


Mum works at the high school in Bega. Some of the teachers there live in Tathra. They’ve started coming back to work in the last few days with stories about the fire’s destruction.


Some were lucky. Others weren’t. It took days of clearing the debris, powerlines and asbestos for them to even know if they had a home to return to. There’s a great sense of sadness.


I’d like to take a little bit of your time to explain to you why this community, my community, is so special – and to ask for your help.





If you haven’t been to Tathra, you should. It’s beautiful.


Whenever I got a spare afternoon, and pretty much every weekend, I’d travel the 15 minutes from our family home to Tathra, get some fish and chips and chill out on the beach with my mates. We’ve got a house there, too. All our school holidays were spent there. It was my grandma’s place and, when she passed away, she left it to dad and his six brothers and sisters.


I appreciate even more how special the place is now that I’ve had to move away for my footy career. That stretch of the south coast – Tathra, Merimbula, Pambula and the others – has the best beaches in Australia.


Fires aren’t new to us. I remember when word went around the community about a grass fire in Angledale. Dad rounded up my brother, my partner and me and drove out to join our neighbours in fighting back the flames to save one of the local houses.


That’s what this community is like. Everyone looks out for each other.


I was watching on the news last night how a few of the local businesses have reopened and are giving away free food and coffee to anyone in need. People have been donating blankets and supplies left, right and centre. And everyone’s doors are open to those who have lost their homes.


It makes me really proud. At the worst of times, the best of my community is coming out.


And the firies have been absolutely amazing. Most of them are volunteers. Their hearts were breaking as they tried to save the properties of their families and friends. I know that bushy area around Reedy Swamp and Thompsons Drive well and can only imagine how hard it would’ve been to fight a fire there. It would’ve been a nightmare.


I know a few of them. Michael Barnden is an old friend from way back. He went out as a volunteer and fought the fire until the early hours, got an hour’s sleep, went to work, left, and went back out to fight the fire again for four days.


A lot of the other volunteers did the same. They’re remarkable people and the community is extremely grateful for them.





It stopped me in my tracks when I heard the first reports over the radio while at work.


It was one of those, ‘Holy shit,’ moments when you realise a tragedy is unfolding and your loved ones are right in the middle of it.


My Facebook feed has been overflowing with friends and family looking out for each other and sharing their stories from the fire. It has impacted everyone in one way or another.


A girl I used to train with at the gym lost her home and everything in it. I said to her I was thinking of her and to let me know if there was anything I could do. Another old friend of mine from school was in the same boat. It’s awful.


It’s a terrible, helpless feeling watching it all unfold on the TV news each night.


Others were luckier. I’ve heard stories of how houses either side of them were burnt to the ground and yet theirs was spared. The flames just jumped straight over the top. I don’t even know how that happens. Some residents stayed and fought to save their homes, and others, with garden hoses.


I work with the Dragons and we’ve been discussing internally what we can do to help. The club has formed a good relationship with the community over the recent years with our community carnival visits. That led to three schools becoming part of our ‘Best You Can Be’ diary program, in addition to the ongoing work we’re doing with the local NRL development team on the far south coast.


I love visiting the schools and seeing how happy it makes them. It makes me proud knowing I can be a positive role model for kids where I grew up. Euan Aiken is another local like me and we want to get down there to help out, whether that’s providing items to auction off or just putting smiles on a few kids faces.


It’s the least we can do for the community that made us who we are.





This is the part where I’m going to ask you for your help.


People have been incredibly generous in donating clothes, food and other supplies to the point where they’ve hit full capacity. I told you! It’s a wonderful community.


But what is needed now is money to help those who have lost everything.


The Mayoral Appeal Fund has been set up to assist families in need. It’s tax deductible and overseen by an independent advisory panel chaired by the mayor, Kristy McBain.


Here’s the bank account they’ve set up to take donations:


BSB: 012-525


Account number: 837535154


Credit card donations can also be made by calling (02) 6499 2345.


Another way you can assist is to make sure the tourist trade to the Bega Valley and the south coast doesn’t fall away. It’s a massive part of the local economy.


If you were thinking about heading to Tathra or the surrounding areas for a holiday, do it.


It’s the best place in the world.


Take it from a local.





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