A cafe in Braidwood made just $50 last Saturday. The council’s grader driver Billy Halligan has a pillow in his grader just so he can get some sleep. Business owners are not seeing their families. School children have had more days off than days at school in the last two weeks.
The North Black Range Palerang fire has engulfed more than just 36,000 hectares around the town of Braidwood.
One of the town’s business owners, Karuna Bajracharya, who owns the appropriately named Smokey Horse Himalayan/Nepalese restaurant in Braidwood, said the battle against the blaze has taken a massive toll on the community, even though the bushfire is mostly under control.
With the town’s water supply also dangerously close to running out, Karuna said he speaks for most of those in Braidwood when he says that businesses and people in the town are suffering.
“We’ve been shrouded in smoke for weeks and resources are stretched thin,” Karuna said.
“I’m pleading with Canberrans to come and visit us this weekend and spend some money in our town, at our cafes, galleries, gift shops. There is more to Braidwood than just our bakery and toilets. Our traditionally busy time leading up to Christmas is what keeps many of these businesses afloat,” Karuna said.
He said many people in the town are casually employed and have had to forego an income to either protect their homes or help fight the fires.
“Everyone is talking about the fantastic job the RFS volunteers are doing, but it’s the story of everyone else who’s got a ute or a trailer driving around with a water tank on it, just doing what they have to in order to fight the fires.
“They’ve been going out and digging containment lines and they’re not able to do their own work or spend time with their families,” Karuna said.
“Some people I know have been doing 10 to 14-hour days for two weeks on end and they have to make the decision of whether they do their job so that they can buy Christmas presents, or stay and help save their neighbour’s property and livestock.
“That’s the choice these people are facing before Christmas.”
Karuna said the community is coping well, but the ripple effect of the fire is burning a hole in the town’s economy.
He said people are getting on with their lives, while also organising fundraisers where musicians are donating their time and Capital Brewing in Canberra has donated free beers.
The Sunday Sesh RFS fundraiser will be a chance for the community to show its appreciation this Sunday for the “hard-sloggin’, heart-warmin’, firefighting volunteers of the NSW Rural Fire Service who have been working like dogs to keep our communities safe” as the event says in its call to arms.
Donations can be made at the door, with all money going towards the Braidwood Rural Fire Service and Braidwood Community Association.
Karuna said the town will definitely recover but needs lots of support from the wider community in Canberra and surrounds to help get the town back on its feet.
The Braidwood Farmers’ Market and Ryrie Park Markets will be held on Saturday, 21 December, with lots of opportunities for people to get the #buyitfrombraidwood tag trending. Word is that lots of fresh garlic will be available.
“There are some simple things people can do,” Karuna says.
“If you’ve got some last-minute Christmas shopping to do, come and spend some time in the whole town and support our local economy.
“It’s probably the best way to directly support our bushfire-ravaged community.”
He said people have been pitching in and helping each other, but there’s been a lot of worried looks on people’s faces and almost every conversation is about the fires.
“The grassroots of the community has really pulled together, but those grassroots are burning out now as well.”
Some parents have been going to the Braidwood schools as education supporters and helping with creative arts.
Karuna says, “We’ve been trying to get the kids into a good frame of mind and they’ve done some amazing artworks of the firefighters in action.
“It’s definitely something that’s going to stick in the minds of many as a major life event for some time to come.”
Learn more about the Sunday Sesh, hosted by Smokey Horse, on Facebook.