During the past summer, Upper Lachlan Shire Council Mayor John Stafford only had animals to greet at his wildlife park in Taralga each morning.
His business and others in Taralga and the neighbouring town of Crookwell survived on little to no income as smoke from nearby bushfires drove customers away.
They were already battling years of drought, then the bushfires, followed by the February floods that wiped out the shire’s roads and damaged the wildlife park’s fences, animal enclosures and internal bridge.
Last week, the NSW Government announced an extension of the $10,000 bushfire grants to small businesses initiative to include the Upper Lachlan Shire. People who suffered a 40 per cent decline in revenue due to the bushfires are eligible and have until December 2020 to apply.
Businesses located outside of the region that operate part-time or on a regular basis in the region are also eligible.
Speaking as a private citizen, Mayor Stafford said he “welcomed the news” and that it was a “boost to morale” ahead of what looked to be a busy October long weekend and school holidays with visitors coming from Sydney and Canberra.
He said he had “almost given up hope” of the shire becoming eligible after lobbying ministers since the scheme started in March.
Upper Lachlan Small Business Association president Susan Reynolds is also pleased about the extension to the region but was “surprised” it wasn’t originally included.
“[Neighbouring local government area] Goulburn Mulwaree was included and yet it still had people visiting from the Hume Highway,” she said. “We had the Rural Fire Service brief Taralga on an evacuation – that’s how far it got.”
Queanbeyan-Palerang and 28 other local government areas were also included early on in the scheme.
Mayor Stafford said he is “extremely appreciative” to Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman for “chasing down” the shire’s eligibility.
Ms Tuckerman said she is “pleased to have finally secured their inclusion in the scheme”.
“Small businesses and the communities that rely on them in the Upper Lachlan will now have the same access to support as those in surrounding local government areas,” she said.
“We know that the impact of the bushfires reaches far beyond the areas damaged directly by the fires and these grants are a godsend for small businesses that have taken such a significant hit financially.”
Mayor Stafford said a NSW Government representative will visit Upper Lachlan Shire businesses to help them apply for the grants.