Nine years ago this month, I was fixated with the disaster unfolding on TV. It wasn’t the red balls of molten fire that got me, but a watery brown stinking liquid mass that rose up from the Brisbane River and slowly vomited inside my house, inch by dirty inch. I remember watching it all night as the media choppers above Suncorp Stadium cast a sad spotlight on my once lively street.
I was utterly bereft. My house was my anchor. The very thing that had brought me back from orbiting the world of corporate travel – kind of like Sandra Bullock in Gravity.
I thought I had nothing.
And then something odd started happening. The ant trail of strangers carrying brooms, mops, sangers and smiles started rocking up on my doorstep. They called them the Mud Army. I prefer to think of them as the Accidental Healers. They were everything I needed, but I didn’t know that I wanted.
My first email to my colleagues went something like this. “I may be a quarter of a million dollars poorer in property, but I feel a million dollars richer in humanity.”
I am by no means comparing my soggy (and comparatively lightweight) situation with the punishing stories of lives and livelihoods vanishing instantly in this year’s bush fires down south. But what I’m trying to say is that the one thing that kept me going, that buoyed me in the weeks and months following the floods, was the presence of strangers. All loyal, generous and quick to extend a hand of mateship.
When the time is right, tourism to affected regions can be a lifeline. It’s not just the immediate exchange of funds between visitor and farmer or visitor and B&B operator, fronting up is a forceful and heartfelt reminder of humanity.
To take a leaf out of Tourism Australia’s new Have A Holiday Here This Year campaign, helping is easy. Book a weekend away in a place that’s been affected. Or show some heart and swap out those Valentine chocolates for products purchased online from a farm-gate store.
The chips might be down right now in many parts of Australia, but there’s one thing we are and that’s resilient. Not to mention loyal, generous, passionate about our country and quick to extend the hand of mateship.
While all of Queensland is open for business and unaffected by fires as I write, there are some destinations within two hours’ drive of Brisbane feeling the double whammy of drought or the perception that last year’s fires mean people should stay away. Stanthorpe is one of them, as is the Scenic Rim, Mt Barney and Lockyer Valley. Here’s a list of places you may consider supporting.
Stay regionally: in the Scenic Rim, Lockyer Valley and Lamington National Park
The stunning farm and forest regions south-west of Brisbane set the tone for a blazing hot summer when Binna Burra, a timeless lodge in Lamington National Park, was lost to fires. But this is a tale of contrasts. Neighbouring getaways unaffected by flames are feeling the negative effects.
Mt Barney Lodge
Owner Innes Larkin has climbed a lot of mountains in his life, including to Everest base camp. But he is facing one of his biggest ascents right now; rebounding from the impact of nearby fires. Located in the beautiful Scenic Rim next to the World Heritage-listed Mt Barney National Park (the park was unfortunately affected by late 2019 bushfires; the lodge was not), visitation to his property has been affected. Typically, this passionate man, who recalls first climbing Mt Barney at age 11, and his wife Tracey, have fought back, creating a Summer Silhouette Sculptures event (1–31 January 2020) to encourage people to come back. If an art trail is not enough to lure you there, check out the lodge’s Three Peaks Challenge and five-day walking adventure here.
Farmers Tim and Patti Pockock at Stockton Rise Country Retreat, one hour from Brisbane, prayed for rain to appease the drought. Now they want it to douse the fires down south (note: their property has not been affected by fire). Ordinarily, the view from the veranda of the two cottages sweeps above rolling crops, but three years of failed harvests meant they didn’t even plant last year. Stay here and support a farmer directly.
Cool off at O’Reilly’s
If the summer is hot, it’s always five degrees cooler in Lamington National Park. Despite the perception created by nearby Binna Burra fires, O’Reilly’s, a much-loved getaway in the Gondwana Rainforest (note: there are no highly flammable eucalyptus forests), is unaffected and as beautiful as ever. Get your nature hit with a stroll under the lush canopies or visit nearby Tamborine Mountain.
Towri Sheep Cheeses
A visit here is never a cheesy thing to do. Mother-daughter duo Carolyn and Dallas Davidson have 300 Awassi sheep to keep them on their toes! But the drought is making an impact, with the Davidsons now buying in water to feed their stock at Towri Sheep Cheeses. How can you help? Flock there to cuddle the gorgeous lambs or get to know their Jack Russell, Honey Poo Davidson. Better yet, book in for a sheep cheese-making workshop. If you can’t get away, let your fingers do the walking. A $10 spend at their online store buys a beautifully packaged hand-made Awassi Sheep Milk Soap.
Tommerup Farm Stay
Who do you think you are? Well, Kay and Dave Tommerup and their kids, Georgia and Harry, have no doubts. These salt-of-the-earth people are sixth generation farmers who call 200 acres of raw beauty in the Kerry Valley their home. Get an insight into their personal history by staying in the original homestead, built in 1888 by Dave’s great-great-grandparents and home to every generation of Tommerup since. Tommerup’s Dairy Farm and Farm Stay offers Jersey cow milking and animal feeding. Kay and Dave love sharing their farm, food and history.
Lose yourself in the Lost World at Worendo Cottages
A modern hut with a traditional twist or a two-bedroom cottage? Both accommodation styles in this breathtakingly beautiful farming district, 90 minutes’ drive from Brisbane, come with the bleating of a very curious flock of black sheep. Each morning, the owners deliver a freshly baked breakfast such as Nathan’s mum’s bacon-and-leek pie. Tie in a visit with a day at the Wild Lime Cooking School. Check out the 50 per cent off as part of their summer sale. Explore the Lost World region.
Summer Land Camels
It’s good for you and good for the camels! A visit to Summer Land Camels, Harrisville, saves camels from being culled and you get to discover the amazing properties of camel milk. Rub it into your skin or eat it in the delicious form of award-winning gelato, cheese, chocolate and more. What’s more, it’s available online.
Other notable country experiences open and waiting
- Overflow Estate 1895
- Kooroomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm
- Songbirds Rainforest Retreat
- Hampton Estate Wines
- Witches Falls Winery
- Witches Falls Cottages
- Tamborine Mountain Glow Worm Tours
- ThunderBird Park and Tree Top Challenge
- Tamborine Mountain Coffee Plantation
- Farm & Farm Gate experiences across the region.
Do lunch – and support scenic towns
Praise the food gods! Judged the most outstanding food region in Australia, at the delicious Produce Awards, the Scenic Rim serves up infinite ways to support farmers and communities affected by a double hit of drought and perception of fire. Brisbanites, don’t wait until Eat Local Week (incidentally, celebrating 10 years this June) to taste the sunshine in every mouthful. Get out now. For more information about Accredited Locavores, visit www.eatlocalscenicrim.com.au
Make an event out of your support and front up to these festivals and events
There’s nothing like a scrum of robust strangers bearing goodwill and big smiles to boost the morale of a town that’s taken a hit. Queensland is home to hundreds of small local events that bring big economic windfalls in an ordinary year. With the drought still on the doorstep, here are a handful of great days out in regions that need a little love.
Mulgowie Farmers Markets (1 February) is an authentic farmers market in the Scenic Rim: and a teaser for their 14 February Mulgowie Bull Ride at the Mulgowie Pub. Here it’s cowboys vs bulls from a town that was affected by fire.
Festival of Hell, Goondiwindi
Anchored around Queensland’s most hellish long-course triathlon event, which consists of a two-kilometre swim in the mighty Macintyre River, an 80-kilometre ‘dead flat’ cycle along the Barwon Highway heading west and a 20-kilometre ‘hot as hell’ run along the picturesque Macintyre River, the Festival of Hell is coming this February.
Do you believe? For something out of this world, Katie Harvey Paranormal Experience’s next event is actually a Haunted Stannum House Sleepover in the drought-affected town of Tenterfield on 29 February.
Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival 28 February–8 March 2020
Whether you love to eat grapes or drink them, it’s time to get acquainted with the Granite Belt region’s produce and booming wine industry at the Apple and Grape Harvest Festival held in Stanthorpe. Expect 10 days of non-stop fun, with events such as the ‘When in Rome’ gala ball, a multicultural carnival and wine fiesta, the legendary grape crush and more.
CMC Rocks Qld (Brisbane) 20–22 March 2020
CMC Rocks Queensland is the biggest international country and roots festival in the Southern Hemisphere delivering an explosive array of music superstars over three massive days and nights, at Willowbank in Ipswich. This year’s hot country line-up includes international guests Miranda Lambert and Kip Moore, along with Australia’s very own emerging star, Morgan Evans.
Roma’s Easter in the Country (Outback) 9–13 April 2020
Roma’s Easter in the Country festival is a five-day celebration of all things country that brilliantly showcases the history and lifestyle of regional Queensland.
Lost World Trail Festival 2020
Calling all seasoned trail runners, weekend warriors and beginners who just love the outdoors, the inaugural Lost World Trail Festival launching 30 May in the foothills of the world-heritage listed Lamington National Park takes endurance to a natural level.
On the Edge Events trail running/mountain biking series
Ride the rim, run an ultra, get out there and show some country support. Starting 20 February, there’s a calendar of off-road adventures easily accessed from Brisbane.
Scenic Rim Clydesdale Spectacular 13–14 June
Join the descendants of the original Scottish immigrants and celebrate the beast that built the nation. Great family event.
Scenic Rim Eat Local Week 2020
Scenic Rim Eat Local Week 10th anniversary in June 2020 celebrates the food, farmers and natural beauty of the area through a program of festivals, farm gate events and culinary experiences.
Winter Harvest Festival 4 July 2020
Taste the food, meet the producers, watch the cooking demonstrations and feast on the Scenic Rim’s smorgasbord of fresh produce.
Go animal to show your support
You may not have half a million dollars like the generous Naomi Watts or Kylie Minogue, but every Aussie can dig deep for our Aussie creatures. Here are some attractions, zoos and sanctuaries doing their bit to help our wildlife.
We all know about the ‘crazy’ crocodile antics at Australia Zoo, but the heart of this park lies in conservation. And just like Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (see below), Australia Zoo is also home to a wildlife hospital that has been working hard to help injured animals. Show your support and make a tax deductible donation, or take a deeper dive and join a small expedition on country to support a number of native species.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
The not-for-profit Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary relies on visitors through the gate to keep their wildlife hospital afloat. Take things one step further and join their volunteer program (you have to be available for a minimum six months) or become a friend of the hospital with a donation starting from $50.
Save a bilby at Dreamworld or Charleville
With less than 400 of these cute little creatures left in the wild, a visit to the Charleville Bilby Centre puts money directly into their conservation program. If the ’Ville is too far to visit, then pop into Dreamworld on the Gold Coast to help out. Behind the big thrill rides, Dreamworld is a park with a giant heart and an animal conservation program that supports the captive breeding and release bilby program. See the long-eared marsupial up close and help them breed. Dreamworld Wildlife Foundation also supports the koala and the Tassie Devil via donations starting from $20.
Spicers Hidden Vale
Spicers Hidden Vale, located 90 minutes south-west of Brisbane in a drought-affected region, is an upmarket country lodge that has teamed up with University of Queensland to help come up with solutions to help Australian wildlife.
How are you helping Australia recover from bushfires?
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