Macedonian community’s donation to Talbingo RFS

Talbingo RFS Captain John Scott and Brigade volunteers accepting a cheque of donated funds from the Australian Macedonian Council of NSW. They are standing in front of Zaklina Mihajlova’s home that was burnt during the January bushfire.

Representatives from the Australian Macedonian Council of NSW delivered a cheque of $2600 to the Talbingo RFS Brigade on Friday to help support them after their tireless efforts during the bushfires over the New Year’s period.

The amount donated is to symbolise that 10 per cent of the population of Talbingo has lived there for 26 years now.

The Australian Macedonian Council of NSW is an umbrella non-profit organisation for the Macedonian community.

Council President Zaklina Mihajlova, who lost her Talbingo home in the January fires, explained that they first began taking donations to help bushfire-affected communities in November of 2019.

“Hundreds and hundreds” of people opened their wallets to those affected.

The Council’s GoFundMe reached $16,500 in donations which was given to Bundeena RFS, Queanbeyan RFS, Shoalhaven RFS, Bushfire Control Singleton Council, Hunter RFS, and Talbingo RFS.

As well as the amount raised through GoFundMe, Macedonian community organisations and the Macedonian Orthodox Churches opened their doors during Macedonian Christmas celebrations to the volunteers of different humanitarian organisations, so generous amounts of money were also given to the wider community in need.

Mrs Mihajlova explained that for more than half a century, Talbingo has been a home for Macedonian migrants in Australia, as a lot of them worked for the Snowy Mountains scheme. Today, about one third of the town’s houses are owned by Macedonian-Australians.

“For many of us, Talbingo is a home in a real meaning of the word,” Mrs Mihajlova said.

“Beautiful nature and surroundings are an attraction for the heart.”

Captain of the Talbingo Brigade, John Scott, expressed his great appreciation for the donation.

“We are overwhelmed by the generosity of everybody,” he said.

Mr Scott said that the money will be put towards new face masks and breathing equipment for the volunteers.

A few members of the brigade have been congested in the chest ever since battling the fires in January, so it will be a very worthwhile investment.

The breathing equipment would be on top of what the RFS already supplies, as well as some equipment donated by Snowy Hydro over the years.

Mr Scott recounted the events of the fires; working long hours on a roster system over the new year’s period, leading up to January 4 when things took a turn for the worst.

“Imagine 300 foot high fire roaring at us, because there was a gale force wind behind it and it was attacking us head-on with embers and yellow fire branches just hitting us at 100km/h winds,” he said, explaining he is ‘still in shock’ about what happened.

It was “all hands on deck” on January 4, until around 10pm when Fire and Rescue arrived and relieved all firefighters and ‘mosquitos’ (residents who stayed to help) involved.

“I went home and just crashed out,” Mr Scott said.

Looking back on the events of five months ago, he said the experience was “frightening” but he feels very proud of the town for pulling together in the way they did.

“The whole community came together,” he said.

“We never got any information about people running around like a chook with its head off.

“Albeit we got some losses, but it could have been much worse.”

January 4 was the day that Mrs Mihajlova’s home was lost in the fires. The brigade tried their hardest, but unfortunately the flames had made it inside the building before they could get there.

“I learned from ABC News, I actually saw the picture that my house was burning, I was in Sydney,” Mrs Mihajlova said.

Mrs Mihajlova said she is still not over the loss, with 300-year-old heirlooms and traditional, handmade Macedonian treasures burnt in the blaze, as well as original photos from her grandmother that are irreplaceable.

Her plan was to eventually create a Macedonian cultural centre in town.

After suffering such a devastating loss of her house, which was not just a house but her ‘home’ and her ‘heart’, Mrs Mihajlova said it is the small things that will help lift everyone’s spirits and rebuild the town.

“We do have that pleasure to put some positivity into the whole situation,” she said about the fundraiser and subsequent donations the Council has made.

“That’s why I treasure simple things like this.

“Simple things will lift up the community.”

Mrs Mihajlova recounted a memory from shortly after the fires, which provided her with much-needed hope.

“[Snowy Valleys Councillor Andrianna Benjamin] sent me a photo. She said, ‘I visited your house for the first time  and look, your roses…are blooming.’

“I couldn’t believe it, it made me so happy.

“I think we have to be reborn again.”