On New Year’s Eve 2019, Victoria’s Upper Murray region was covered by smoke and surrounded by fire on nearly all sides – a disaster that’s still difficult for locals to comprehend.
“A lot of people suffered an incredible event here, with fires coming into Corryong from two, three sides,” general manager of the Man from Snowy River Bush Festival, Jenny Boardman, said in an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire-affected communities, Open for Business.
The town of roughly 1200 people was left without power and low on water.
“Over the following days and weeks, we were covered in smoke, surrounded by fires on multiple sides. (It was) a very torrid time, a lot of the locals in Corryong suffered the consequences of that fire going through,” Ms Boardman said.
“You felt like it was not if, but when it was going to happen. For what other people went through who did get burned, I personally can’t comprehend it.”
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Kaye McInnes, who owns gift and homewares store A Little Thyme in Corryong, lives out toward Cudgewa, “where the main front of the fire was coming”.
“We had the local police sergeant Liam come out and tell us to get out of the house, that they didn’t think they were going to control it,” Ms McInnes recalled.
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Instead of the damage forcing people apart, the fires bound the community in a way that Corryong Angling Club Treasurer and Secretary, Shea Bloom, said she hadn’t witnessed.
“The community spirit that happened is something that I’ve never seen before and it just makes you really proud of your community, that we can come together as a whole and support each other,” she said.
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“Those communities have pulled together in such a way that they’ve now created drinks that they never had before and it’s come together through the fires,” Ms Boardman said.
“Out of all of that adversity they’ve now rebuilt community halls, they’ve rebuilt tennis courts, they’ve rebuilt infrastructure and firetrucks and support all equipment. To see the way that they are so resilient and how this community keeps just getting up and getting on with the job is just amazing so I’m very proud to be part of the place.”
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Losing the Man from Snowy River Bush Festival – which Ms Boardman described as “a huge event for the area, probably the biggest event of its kind in the northeast of Victoria” – for even one year “has been a massive blow”.
“We have a storage compound at the local recreation reserve where we run our Festival that was burned to the ground, we lost all our equipment and infrastructure,” she said.
The Festival is “one of the most renowned horse festivals and horse events in Australia”.
“We want everyone to come along and enjoy it, and just see a part of our Australian heritage and culture celebrated in a way that you won’t see anywhere else,” she said.
As for “why you should come to the Upper Murray?” Ms Bloom said.
“It’s picturesque. We’ve got snow, we’ve got sunshine, we’ve got amazing rivers, we’ve got amazing fishing. The scenery is just really unbelievable,” she said.
It’s a “lovely, picturesque town”, Ms McInnes agreed.
“Now a lot of tourists come here – not just for the festival, but they actually come after or before because they just want to come and have a little look,” she said.
There’s something different and something special about the Upper Murray, Ms Boardman added.
“Our lifestyle here is unique. It’s probably one of the hidden gems of Australia, I think,” she said.
“A place where a lot of people in the past would’ve driven through to get somewhere else, but now it’s a place that they come to as a destination.”
Nature, the town itself, and unique events like the Festival aren’t the only reasons you should consider paying the region a visit. Its greatest selling point could very well be the wonderful people who live there.
“One of the greatest compliments we get every year from the Festival is from our visitors,” Ms Boardman said.
“They say how friendly and welcoming the locals are, and they’re just sort of blown away by that. It’s definitely something that people should visit and see for themselves, and enjoy the experience. There’s a lot to offer.”
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