Monday marked the last day of BlazeAid fencing in the Snowy Valleys, wrapping up a monumental 18-month effort.
Coordinator Steve Matthews said the work is far from over, but the camp has done about all it can do. He’s hopeful the community will continue to support one another, with those who have been helped by BlazeAide “paying it forward” to their neighbours.
“There’s still lots and lots of work to be done, but unfortunately, I’m taking a month off, and I suppose it’s time for BlazeAide to move on,” he said.
“There’s another fire season coming, and who knows what work there will be out there for the next six months or so.”
Mr Matthews has been part of the camp since it opened in mid-January 2020, living off his long service leave payments. He’ll take a month off and then head to Wauchope to relieve coordinator Christine Male, who helped establish the camp in Adelong.
“It’s been a small camp, but we’ve been able to do quite a bit of work over the last three months,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it’s just coming to an end.”
Since it opened, the camp has served a total of 40,211 meals, building 585.1 km of new fencing and removing 593.1 km of burnt and damaged fencing.
In total 453 properties registered for assistance. 396 have been helped, with 311 of those farming projects fully completed.
Mr Matthews said the completion rate of just under 70 per cent was pleasing, but showed there are still farmers in the early stages of recovery, especially around Tumbarumba where the camp has recently been focussed.
“If I had enough crew up in Tumbarumba, we could be still here for six more months,” he said.
“Most of the Tumbarumba people we’ve been to have lost houses, not just fences.
“Sitting here, looking out over the gorgeous main range, there’s snow on the Snowys and there’s a vacant block where a house was. It’s tough.”
Mr Matthews thanked the Snowy Valleys Council, and especially Andrew Rae and Mayor James Hayes, for their support.
“Without those guys working hard to make it happen, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Cr Hayes said he was grateful on behalf of the community for the work done by the 1304 volunteers, led by Ms Male and Mr Matthews.
“They’ve been magnificent,” said Cr Hayes.
“They’ve been wonderful for the community and when you look at what the volunteers have done, and it’s not just the BlazeAid volunteers, it’s the local volunteers; they served nearly 40,000 meals and that’s the local people serving those meals, which I think is pretty amazing.”
Cr Hayes also mentioned corporate sponsors, like Tumut Toyota, who donated a vehicle to the camp for six months, free of charge.
The mayor said it was sad to see the volunteers go, but felt the community has been “very, very fortunate to have had them for the amount of time that we have.”
“A lot of it has to do with the calibre of coordinators that we’ve had,” he said, naming Mr Matthews and Ms Male.
The camp will wrap up this week, logging a total of just over 17,400 volunteers to date, harnessing a volunteer base with an average age of 50.5 years. The economic contribution of the camp to the community ran up to an enormous $575,925.68.
“Thank you to the locals, Tumut, Adelong, Batlow, Tumbarumba, the entire region,” said Mr Matthews.
“They’ve been fantastic; the amount of support we’ve got from everybody has been amazing.”