BlazeAid and Upper Murray bushfire recovery continues in shadow of coronavirus

OUTLOOK: Farmer Mick Sutcliffe at his property's look out. He is incredibly grateful for the help BlazeAid and other charities have provided after fire ravaged his farm. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA
OUTLOOK: Farmer Mick Sutcliffe at his property's look out. He is incredibly grateful for the help BlazeAid and other charities have provided after fire ravaged his farm. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

Nine months has elapsed since the Upper Murray NSW bushfires bore down on the region, indiscriminately scorching paddocks and homes.

The heat has gone, as has the eerie orange haze that settled in nearby towns and cities.

Masks are no longer worn to protect from hazardous air, and the smoke that blanketed the region and filled residents' lungs is just a bad memory.

The world moved from one crisis to another, green shoots sprung and the country's collective focus shifted.

But region was far from recovered.

BlazeAid Jingellic and Walwa camp coordinator Natalie Trigwell said people's thoughts had moved on from the fires, and many did not realise just how much recovery work was still left.

"Bushfires were such a big thing, then COVID came along... everyone's focus suddenly shifted," she said.

"There's a lot of regrowth and visually it's not that shocking impact you see immediately after fires, so it tends to disappear from social conscience.

"If the general public drive through, they can think it's recovered because it's green. They don't understand recovery as far as fencelines, recovering fields, animals and infrastructure on farms takes many, many years."

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This week, BlazeAid has been working on the hills of Mick and Lyn Sutcliffe's Valley View property near Tintaldra.

When the fires came through over summer, 100 per cent of the property was burnt.

Since then, cattle have returned to the farm and charities, friends and strangers have helped Mick and Lyn rebuild slowly.

Mr Sutcliffe said he had no idea where they'd be without the support of Rotary, Lions, Fencing for Fires, BlazeAid and individuals.

JOIIN IN: BlazeAid volunteer erect fencing at Valley View. Workers range from international couples to retirees of differing skill levels. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

JOIIN IN: BlazeAid volunteer erect fencing at Valley View. Workers range from international couples to retirees of differing skill levels. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

"Probably in the nuthouse somewhere, I don't know," he said.

"Nowhere near where we are now. I'm not very good with words, you just can't describe the effort they put in and what it means."

Mr Sutcliffe said having extra hands on the farm made a huge difference.

"BlazeAid are going gangbusters," he said.

"They're fantastic, yesterday they probably did a month's worth of work for us in a day pulling down fences."

Mr Sutcliffe said there was about three kilometres of boundary fence left to fix, but at the rate BlazeAid was working it'd be done in no time.

Valley View. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

Valley View. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

The volunteers and workers devoting their time to BlazeAid are varied in nationality and background but united by their willingness to work and eagerness to help.

For Ms Trigwell, being trapped by a firefront near Glenreagh last November inspired her to get involved.

"I found myself stranded, without work and surrounded by fire," she said.

"After getting help I decided I wanted to find a way to pay it forward."

Since then she's visited and worked at every fire zone in NSW, except Mudgee.

"You can't fix all their problems but you can give them a hand up," she said.

"It's so rewarding.

"Seeing a farmer on the first day when you encounter them, they're often so overwhelmed with the work load and don't know where to start.

"After a few days their faces just light up. They just need that extra hand, it's such a big job on your own."

DEDICATED: Wodonga's Bob 'Bobcat' Reid working on Mick Sutcliffe's property. He has spent his long-service leave volunteering for BlazeAid. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

DEDICATED: Wodonga's Bob 'Bobcat' Reid working on Mick Sutcliffe's property. He has spent his long-service leave volunteering for BlazeAid. Picture: TARA TREWHELLA

Wodonga's Bob 'Bobcat' Reid has devoted his long-service leave to working in the fire-affected area of Upper Murray, Wingham and Tumbarumba.

"I'm comfortable, they're not," he said.

"A lot of destruction happened during the fires and they're against the wall, why not help them as much as we can?"

Mr Reid spent about 27 years in the army and knows the importance of supporting your own.

"It's very important, they're people in our community... without them where do we get our food from?," he said,

"Farmers out there are doing a magnificent job and helping each other, so us coming from regional areas to come into spots and make it easier for them to get on with their life, it's good."

Argentinian couple Tina Della and Felipe Sabatte have been involved in several Blaze Aid projects.

Argentinian couple Tina Della and Felipe Sabatte have been involved in several Blaze Aid projects.

For three weeks BlazeAid has been working in the Upper Murray, based out of two camps on opposite sides of the Murray, to make working across the border easier.

The camps will run for months, and Ms Trigwell encouraged property owners and volunteers to register on 0497 717 605.

"We don't want anyone left behind because they didn't realise we were back," she said.

This story Look past the green and beyond COVID, bushfire hit areas still needs help first appeared on The Border Mail.