Apple tree centre will grow again

Pictured left: Batlow Apple Tree Learning Centre educator Michelle Rowe with Grace Magann, director Heather Murray with Scott Lee, educator Sarah Holland with Poppy Garner and educator Yolandie Oberholzer with Danielle Oberholzer in the fire-affected outdoor play area at the Centre.

The Batlow Apple Tree Learning Centre, which came within a whisker of being destroyed by the Dunns Road fire on January 4, has received a $42,700 bushfire recovery grant from the Commonwealth Bank.

The grant will be used to cover what insurance could not and restore the valued natural atmosphere of the outdoor play area, which was affected by the inferno that did so much damage to the town.

“We have a very strong focus on the benefits of natural play, and that’s why the yard is so important to us,” Centre director Heather Murray said.

The centre backs right onto the bush in one of the hard-hit parts of Batlow.

Its staff and family members were part of the Snowy Valleys community, taking refuge in Wagga while the fire hit its peak.

Their biggest fears were for those who remained in the town and other fire-hit areas.

They feared the worst about the centre and were initially given good reason to.

“The initial report we got was that the whole centre had been lost,” Ms Murray said.

The fire did damage fences, a shed, shade sails, garden beds, plants and trees.

“It came so close,” Ms Murray said.

 “If it (the centre) was a timber building, it would have been gone. We were very, very lucky. When we saw what the fire actually did, we were relieved.”

Now the main emphasis is on the rejuvenation of the playground; the natural environment.

“We believe it is really important that the children witness everything coming back to life, and know that fires didn’t mean finality,” Ms Murray said.

The money will be spent on topsoil, sand, plants, trees, machine hire and labour. Centre staff are looking at the grant money with a view to the future.

“It will basically go towards returning the yard to how it was, plus improving it even further,” Ms Murray said.

“We are a community-based service and we are reaching out to the community because so many people will benefit from this improvement, into the long-term.”