Out of the ashes, a movement begins

The scene on Batlow Road, the day after the January 4 fires.

Although labelled as “undefendable” when the Dunns Road fire raced towards the town on January 4 last year, Batlow was saved by the hard work of the local RFS, Fire and Rescue NSW, and other volunteers who had stayed behind to protect their homes.

It has now been one year since the fire tore through, destroying a number of buildings, businesses and over 22 homes, but the Batlow spirit has held strong. Just as locals worked so fiercely to protect their town from complete decimation, they are now looking to the future, using the devastating fires as an opportunity to grow the town and build back better.

Do It For Batlow was loosely created last June, becoming an incorporation the following month. The community-led movement brings together ideas and projects that can be developed as a group, and put forward to council and government for backing.

President of the group, Max Gordon-Hall, said that disaster recovery happens best when it is led by the community.

“That is, that the affected community brings forward their ideas of what they and the town need to recover,” he said. 

“This is the essence of Do It For Batlow – supporting locals to get their ideas to fruition.”

The group was initially formed to assist the progression of the Batlow Rail Trail project, however the focus is now on ‘quick wins’ for the town, aka projects that can be completed in months, rather than years.

Their approach is simple: a Batlow local will present the group with an idea that they themselves would like to see happen in town. Do It For Batlow assesses the idea and confirms that it fits within their ability and scope, and then the project is worked on by the Project Leader – the individual who first proposed the idea – with the support of Do It For Batlow.

“We invite everyone to come along, join in the discussions and help shape the future of Batlow. We have very very big things in the pipeline for Batlow!” Mr Gordon-Hall encouraged.

Last November, Do It For Batlow hosted a Cocktail Party, fundraising almost $8000 for the group via an auction. The event was the first many locals had been able to attend since the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March.

Another project Do It For Batlow has helped coordinate is a Community Calendar, led by Bindi Vanzella of Happy Wombats Hazelnuts.

“Bindi presented this idea at a general meeting, saying that she wanted to see an increase in socialisation, connectedness and general knowledge about local events,” Mr Gordon-Hall said. 

“Bindi asked if DIFB could assist her in creating a 2021 calendar with running a local photography event with over 250 entries for the calendar and assist with a grant and hold the funding and expenses.” 

The calendars are now on sale at the Batlow Bakery, having sold over 600 with only 150 left.

“Some of these calendars have went to Canada, Massachusetts and Tasmania,” Mr Gordon-Hall said.

Looking towards the future, one such project is focusing on Weemala Hill, where the Batlow lookout is. Mr Gordon-Hall said this is one of the larger, ongoing projects and was the first grant outcome for the group, securing $9036.

“This project is looking to restore and rejuvenate the Weemala Nature Reserve and to make the hill a destination for outdoor enthusiasts,” he added.

Another project brought to the group is a High Country Cider, Wine and Food Trail.

“This project, brought to us by a local lady, aims to ensure tourists and locals know of our hidden gems through the southern part of the Snowy Valleys,” Mr Gordon-Hall explained. 

“Starting on the northern outskirts of Batlow and heading south, this trail takes in all the delicious food, drinks, and views. 

“This is being produced in a brochure format with funding being supplied by Bendigo Bank Tumbarumba and Do It For Batlow.”