Tim Salway is still picking up the pieces after the devastating fires that ripped through his home town of Cobargo in the summer of 2020.
A fifth generation farmer, there was little the out-of-control inferno didn’t take from his family, in a horror event that none of the 800 residents living in the quaint town on the NSW Sapphire Coast, will ever forget.
Nothing could have prepared him for what happened on December 30, 2019.
“The biggest impact was that I lost my father and brother (in the fire) … That was the worst thing ever,” Tim said.
“I won’t lie … I have probably struggled a bit.”
Desperately trying to save the family property on the outskirts of town, Tim’s younger brother Patrick, 29, and father Robert, 63, lost their lives in the out-of-control blaze that ripped through hundreds of properties.
Cobargo, a town most of Australia had never heard of, quickly became the symbol of one of Australia’s deadliest bushfire seasons on record.
In an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire affected communities, Open for Business , Tim said the day the fire took over the town will take a lifetime to recover from.
“We have been to hell and back I suppose,” he said.
“But we are farmers … you’ve got to keep going … try and keep smiling that’s all you can do, day by day.”
Mr Salway’s story of resilience and rebuilding has been echoed throughout the Cobargo community, where close to 370 homes were lost and a further 98 damaged.
Overall across Australia between September 29, 2019 and March 31, 2020, nine firefighters lost their lives and a total of 33 people died during one of the country’s most devastating bushfire seasons in history.
Cobargo Hotel owner David Allen, who watched the historic main street burn in front of his eyes, said nothing will erase the memories of New Year’s Eve 2019.
“The fire came through here about 4am … and it was a pretty big 30 hours trying to save as much as we could,” he said.
“It was hard … trying to defend this place and watching the town burn … it was very, very tough.”
Mr Allen said that no other community could band together like Cobargo, and now – a year on – the region is rebuilding and ready for Australians to return.
“Cobargo is a great place to visit … you can park in the main street and just wander up and down and have a look at all the different shops or get a meal,” he said.
“There’s so much to offer and so much to see … and support and give to those areas that lost last summer basically their tourist income. It will really help turn things around and get people back on their feet.”
Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment Dan Tehan said now more than ever, bushfire impacted communities need our support.
“A year on from the Black summer fires, the best way we can help these communities is by visiting them,” Mr Tehan told news.com.au.
“Stay a few nights … visit the destinations that surround these communities and support the ones that have been so heavily impacted.”
Mr Tehan said that one of the biggest single impacts on tourism from the COVID-19 pandemic stopping Australians from visiting the regions has been the on-again, off-again border closures.
“Every time there’s a border closure, it’s impacted the tourism sector and especially those sectors trying to recover from the bushfires,” he said.
“That’s why we need to go to those communities … they are open for business. I have no doubt you will be warmly welcomed … and you won’t get a warmer welcome anywhere in the world.”
For the next 14 weeks, 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