’We were surrounded by fire’

When fires surrounded New South Wales’ Snowy Monaro for over a month, people from all over Australia – and the world – banded together to perform one huge act of selflessness.

While residents in the region knew that other people were facing the same kind of devastation through the nation’s black summer of 2019 and 2020, “we were in our little world here with our fires”.

“I felt that we were surrounded by fire,” Richard Swain said in an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire affected communities, Open for Business.

Along with his wife, Alison, the couple own Alpine River Adventures, which specialises in whitewater rafting, scenic river tours and wilderness paddling experiences.

Ms Swain said they could see, “all around, 360 degrees” the fires from their house, “all these different fires popping up”.

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NSW’s Snowy Monaro was surrounded by fire for over a month. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Founder and CEO of The Fly Program, Matt Tripet, said the bushfires “had an enormous impact on this region”.

“There was the direct impact of the fire itself, and then there was the indirect – a lack of tourism. So it really changed a lot of lives, directly and indirectly.”

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The bushfires ‘had an enormous impact’ on the region, changing a lot of lives ‘directly and indirectly’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

It didn’t stop people from lending each other a hand, though – quite the opposite, in fact, Selwyn Snow Resort general manager, Angela Murdoch, said.

“In this region with the community, they really banded together. It was a really difficult time for everybody involved in the fires, and to see the support and resilience that they had towards the fires and towards each other was a really amazing thing in a pretty terrible time,” she explained.

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People from all around Australia – and the world – descended on the area to help the wildlife. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Alpine River Adventures became ‘this hub of animal rescue’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Potentially one of the most remarkable ways that sense of community manifested, the Swains said, was their place becoming “this hub of animal rescue”, with international wildlife rescue crews coming to assist from across the globe.

Richard and his wife Alison own Alpine River Adventures.Source:Supplied

“That many amazing people coming to our areas to help was just fantastic,” said Ms Swain.

“We ended up rescuing probably about 20 koalas from the areas that were burnt around our house. So part of that recovery was we had to really quickly build good standard housing for these koalas.”

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About 20 koalas from the area around the Swains’ house were rescued. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

They were released into the wild after being nursed back to health. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Sydney’s Lady Tradies and “all these other volunteers” descended on the region “to make sure that we had that infrastructure to help take care of these animals”, Ms Swain added.

Volunteers helped feed the koalas for months, before slowly releasing them as their landscape improved and as vets assessed that “they were OK to go”.

“So it was really, really nice when we finally let the last one go,” he said.

“That was the most positive experience of the fires that we had,” Ms Swain agreed.

“Getting to meet so many amazing people doing that, flying across the world or driving from one side of Australia to the other just to come here and be involved in a positive way.”

Residents are rebuilding their lives and ‘enjoy why we love to live in the Snowys’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

To see the rest of the area “recovering and recovering well from the bushfires is a great thing”, Ms Murdoch said.

“Support from the government is reaching these communities. We’re starting to see people rebuild their lives through work, through tourism, and we’re also just seeing this great resilience within the community itself, enjoy why we love to live in the Snowys and why we love to share it with the community,” Mr Tripet said.

A love and passion for the region ‘is a part of our DNA’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

The area has seen an ‘incredible return’ of domestic tourism. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Residents’ love and passion for the region, he said, “is a part of our DNA”.

“It’s something that we really want to share and enjoy for ourselves, but share with the community. We’re passionate about it and we’ve just seen such an incredible return in domestic tourism here to the Snowy Mountains,” Mr Tripet added.

The region has natural beauty in spades. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

The Snowys ‘create memories that you have for life’. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

“The silver linings out of all of this is that people want authentic experiences again.

“People want to feel the cold water on their skin, they want to feel their lungs exerting when they’re riding up or walking up a hill.

“We have the freshest air, we have the most beautiful river systems and lakes, and that’s what we have in spades here in the Snowys. Authentic, real experiences that really create memories that you have for life.”

Snowy Monaro is well and truly open for business. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

Ms Murdoch said she loves the region most because “it’s such a unique environment within Australia”.

“You know, especially the Snowy Mountains – (they) offer something very extraordinary and very special to the Australians that come and visit the region,” she said.

The Snowy Mountains offer something ‘very special’ to visitors. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied

“This is my backyard, this is my office. And it’s a place that I love to share with our community,” Mr Tripet said.

“It’s a place where I love to see people come and enjoy as a visitor. Come down to the NSW Snowy Mountains and enjoy our beautiful backyard.”

News.com.au in partnership with Tourism Australia and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency will showcase bushfire impacted regions that need our support. For the full video series, check out Open for Business

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