When the Badja Forest Road bushfire roared into Cobargo on 30 December, 2019, four lives were lost, along with hundreds of homes and main street shops, leaving a community in shock.
The town on the NSW South Coast had gone from a peaceful, musically talented locale to the front pages of the national media. By the time COVID-19 broke out in early 2020, its 770 residents had already endured so much.
Ten months on and Cobargo is a finalist in two categories of the NSW/ACT Regional Achievement and Community Awards. The awards encourage, acknowledge and reward the valuable contributions of individuals, communities and businesses in regional NSW and the ACT.
The Cobargo Showground Land Manager has been selected as a finalist in the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Crown Land Manager Excellence Award, and the community of Cobargo has been selected as a finalist for the Awards Australia Connecting Communities Award.
The Cobargo Showground Land Manager Board comprises seven appointed volunteer members and other local volunteers, mainly from the Cobargo AP&H Society and, more recently, the Yuin Folk Club. This award recognises outstanding community service ethos, dedication and commitment to community.
“The Cobargo Showground is where the Cobargo and district community comes together in good times and hard times,” said Crown Land Manager Board chairman Richard Tarlinton. “During the summer bushfire period, the showground took on the function of community refuge and was the focus of the bushfire relief effort.
“For those who had lost everything, the showground became a place of shelter, somewhere to eat and shower, and to share the experiences we were living through with others who understood.
“It then became the focus of the local bushfire relief effort; a place where we showed that small rural communities do not simply endure disaster but come through stronger, more resilient and more connected than ever before.”
Mr Tarlinton said recent projects at Cobargo Showground include a major upgrade to the toilets and showers, a new shed and shed extensions, improved disabled access, a concrete floor to the bar and canteen area, a cool room and major earthworks, including drainage to increase the amount of usable land.
In September, a joint application by the Yuin Folk Club and the Cobargo Showground Land Manager, supported by the Cobargo AP&H Society, gained seed funding for a proposed $2 million building at the showground. The grant provided by the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund is for the development of a design concept for a Cobargo Community Building/Community Fire Refuge.
The Awards Australia Connecting Communities Award recognises grass-roots, real-life initiatives – led by local community groups or not-for-profits – that demonstrate genuine involvement, long-term value, and add to the life of the community.
When considering this award, it was felt the Cobargo community and surrounding localities deserved recognition for their response to the Black Summer bushfires and the subsequent recovery and rebuilding effort.
“The people of Cobargo and surrounding localities of Quaama, Yowrie, Wandella, Verona and Coolagolite responded immediately to the disaster, contributing to the relief, recovery and rebuilding of our community, as did local clubs and societies,” said Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund committee member Debra Summer.
“Volunteers from every part of the community set up a refuge/relief centre, community bushfire recovery fund, primary producer emergency feed fund and a business recovery group. A master plan for the village rebuild is in progress; mental health and welfare assistance is available; and working groups are assisting with building, fencing and other necessary farm work.
“Extensive community consultation has influenced the redevelopment of the main street, a new community building/bushfire refuge, a project to improve energy resilience, and another [project] focused on environmental rehabilitation.
“Many wonderful, smaller, community initiated projects have also been developed and continue to emerge as a response to the bushfire crisis. This amazing, resilient community keeps coming together magnificently in support and spirit.
“In coming together this way, we have an even stronger sense of community connectedness, volunteerism and caring.
“The fact so many individuals stepped up and have gone above and beyond to help the community during this incredibly difficult time, it is impossible to single out any one person for the award.”
While this year’s Cobargo Folk Festival had to be cancelled, the community may soon have something else to sing about.
The NSW/ACT Regional Achievement and Community Awards will be presented on Friday, 20 November, 2020.