Saturday was busy in Batlow, with multiple public events signalling a transition into a version of Covid normalcy. With fewer cases in NSW – and border restrictions easing with Victoria – Andrew Rae from the Snowy Valleys Council said it felt like it was time to start holding some of the long-awaited bushfire recovery events which had been planned earlier, including a ‘Gather’ festival at the Batlow Showgrounds.
“The whole idea of the day was to have some social interaction,” he said. “With Covid, we haven’t been able to do that.”
Mr Rae said the primary purpose of the ‘Gather’ festival was to allow people to come together and talk, with a secondary goal of helping the community to see the “wonderful people” who’ve been part of the formal recovery process as part of the community.
“We want the community to see that we’re all people,” he said. “We all are community, we all had our own journey through the fires.”
Beside Mr Rae were Jo Murrell of Anglicare and Kate Johanson of the Red Cross. They said the recovery work so far has been very one-on-one, so the Gather festival was a good change to “take the temperature of the community as a whole.”
“There are different phases of recovery,” said Mr Rae, adding that the agencies will hold a meeting at the beginning of December to assess their efforts so far and plan ahead for the next stages of Batlow’s growth and renewal.
The festival was well attended, with several hundred people reportedly checking in through the CovidSafe measures and enjoying live music, arts, crafts and food trucks.
Headspace Wagga was on hand with a tent full of puzzles, games and materials for making stress balls. Cassie May and Hillary Robinson represented the organisation on Saturday, saying it was a good chance to connect with local teenagers, children and families.
“We’re here to have a yarn, have a chat,” said Ms May. “We’ll be at all the community events, just letting people know the support is here if they need it.”
Meanwhile, Sophie Erzay shared lessons in how to make lace by hand, singers and bands passed through the centre stage, Jennifer Wines oversaw a ‘leaves of gratitude’ craft and Fire and Rescue NSW handed out red fire hats to children and property fireproofing tips to parents.
Frank and Diana Goss were camping at Blowering Dam and heard about the event on the radio. They live in Barooga, on the NSW-Victoria border (“not the naughty side”) and said they’ve been to Batlow several times since January’s fires.
“We come to support the town,” said Mrs Goss. “It was absolutely devastation, but I think the town has survived really well.”
They were joined by friends from Albury, Ted and Karyl Skewpeck.
“These towns are so resilient,” said Mrs Skewpeck.
The next Gather event will be held at Adelong Memorial Park on Friday, November 20, from 4pm to 9pm. The final event will be in Tumbarumba on Friday, December 4, from 4pm to 9pm.