Even before fire consumed 10 out of 25 main street shops in the village of Mogo and numerous other businesses, the business community were developing the kind of camaraderie that would see them through the disaster – they just didn’t know it.
“We do have regular meetings but they aren’t formal,” chuckles chamber of commerce president Richard Adams “we usually get together and have a few drinks and catch up.”
The Mogo Chamber is only three years old but the formula obviously works, with some of the highest participation levels in the state.
“We’re one of the youngest chambers in the NSW but we have 38 members out of about 50 businesses total – and I think there will be more after the fire,” Richard comments.
Richard owns a gift shop in Mogo, Hidden Treasures, that survived the fire. But he lost his home and plenty of stock destined for his shop with it.
Despite this, he’s philosophical about his loss and about the future of Mogo and the community.
“Everyone has a different issue or problem and everyone has lost something in this fire. Some houses still don’t have electricity and people get frustrated – I understand, I’ve been frustrated too, it’s taken me a few weeks to get to a better state of mind. Progress is slow but we’re doing reasonably OK.”
Richard has a lot of empathy for the organizations and levels of government responsible for responding to this kind of disaster.
“It’s all new to them too – black Saturday was tiny compared to this,” he says, laughing as he adds “I call the Recovery Centre in Bateman’s Bay the Discovery Centre because you never know what you’ll find there, it’s been evolving since it opened because they just had no idea what we would need. ”
Another small town on the Prices Highway, Moruya, was badly impacted by the proximity of fire but the blaze was contained on the western edges of the town, coming within 150 metres of Moruya Hospital before firefighters stopped it.
Moruya’s Chamber president, Tim Dalrymple, runs Sport First, a sports store on the main street and reports that the economic impact of the fires on the 62 business which belong to the chamber has been “a mixed bag.”
“We haven’t seen any business close yet but we had a few open like the ice cream parlour reopened on New Year’s Day. I think they are doing OK but we do rely on the tourism dollar, I know Tackle World is down about 75 per cent, that’s a pretty horrendous hit.”
There have been almost 500 houses lost in the Eurobodalla and Tim says that the economic flow-on of 500 households replacing burnt goods is becoming clear.
“It’s not for good reasons but the manager at Harris Scarfe told me they are up by about 20 per cent and the guy at the mower shop said the same thing.”
Still, the total impact of these unprecedented fires is as yet unknown and both Tim and Richard stress the ongoing mental health impact on themselves and their communities.
“My sister convinced me to fly to Sydney just before it all broke out and I got there and sat in front of the TV and watched Rosedale and Malua Bay burn and I just burst into tears, thinking I know most of the people who own those houses,” Tim says.
“I still need to de-brief about it – I think everyone does. It’s less now but it’s still there,” he adds.
Most shops which burnt in Mogo are underinsured and the big test will come in the next few months as the town begins to rebuild, Richard says.
“Some businesses won’t be able to come back, we’re coming into winter, our low season and many businesses will need financial assistance to stay afloat for the next 12 months.”
Ricard is blown away that more lives weren’t lost, given the ferocity of the fire that came through Mogo and says that the fact gives him hope for the future.
“We’re obviously dealing with something a bit different now, with climate change. But when you think it’s real bad, look in the mirror – you’re still here. We’ve all got to work together and move forward now.”