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Country spirit rises from ashes of NSW fires

Devastation: An aerial view of Uarbry in NSW after it was hit by a bushfire. The small regional town was hit by a destructive bushfire which devastated the community, destroying homes, bushland and the historical Tongy station. Photo: AAP

MICHAEL Quade knows well how people in small country towns stick together in tough times, and he’s being reminded again as his school community rallies to support a young family whose house was destroyed by recent bushfires.

Mr Quade is acting principal at Sacred Heart Primary School in Coolah, one of the communities that bore the brunt of bushfires that raged across thousands of hectares of central western NSW two weekends ago.

He said one of the families at the school “lost absolutely everything” when a fire near Coolah ripped across the cattle and sheep property where they lived.

The family of mum and dad and two boys – one in Year 5 and the other in Year 3 – had not owned the house but they rented it and the father worked on the property.

“They’ve been provided with a rental property (in town) by a local real estate agent, and services like the St Vincent de Paul Society have assisted with food vouchers,” Mr Quade said.

He said the community had been generous with donations of clothing and other necessities, and various organisations had provided furniture and white goods.

The school had provided the boys with new uniforms, bags and books.

Devastation in the region had been widespread with 31 homes and 104 outbuildings destroyed in the Coolah, Leadville, Uarbry and Cassilis areas.

The fires burned through thousands of hectares, and hundreds of cattle and sheep were lost.

“Everybody (in and around Coolah) was affected,” Mr Quade said.

“Everybody’s husband or sons were outside with the fires.

“And, because at different periods and for lengthy periods there wasn’t even mobile phone service … they had days and nights not even knowing whether their loved ones were safe.

“It might be six months down the track or longer – as with any other tragedy – before things settle down and supposedly things are back to normal.”

Mr Quade said the two boys whose home had been destroyed had returned to school, their parents were back at work – their father on the farm and their mother at the local hospital and hostel.

He said the family had been overwhelmed by the generosity they had been shown.

“I’m new here this year, but I grew up in a small country town, and you see how the community pulls together and supports each other,” Mr Quade said.

He said communities outside of Coolah and further afield had offered support.

“(It’s) the strength of the community. We look out for each other.”

The school organised a community get-together for Thursday afternoon.

“We’re not sure who will come,” Mr Quade said. “The local Centacare representative will be here, and Jenny Allen (Bathurst diocese’s Catholic Education chief executive officer) is coming to show her support.”

Bathurst Bishop Michael McKenna is visiting the Dunedoo-Coolah parish this weekend in support of the community.

Mudgee, further south, was another parish affected by fires at the same time.

Parish priest Fr Tony Hennessy said “thank God no one was killed” and no one was burnt or injured in the fires.

He asked people to continue to pray for those who were affected by the fires.

Last weekend, bushfires broke out in the Queanbeyan region, with 11 homes destroyed and 12 damaged, and 3100ha burned at Carwoola, south-east of the city.

Queanbeyan parish priest Fr Troy Bobbin said the small town of Hoskinstown was one the places worst affected.

“Two or three parishioners lost homes and outbuildings,” he said.

“One of our parishioners is contacting each of the families to see how we can be of service.”

Fr Bobbin said the parish would be supporting the fundraising being done by community organisations. “We’re making sure everyone is taken care of for their immediate needs.”

By Peter Bugden

Catholic Church Insurance

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