16 October 2020

Nerriga community shows its heart with bushfire recovery documentary

| Alex Rea
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Rose Ricketson and Clare Young.

Producer Rose Ricketson (left) and filmmaker Clare Young (right) are the creative forces behind radio documentary The Good People of Nerriga. Photo: Michael Simic.

Bushfire survivors from the NSW town of Nerriga tell the story of the Black Summer bushfires in an original, locally produced, half-hour radio documentary series which will be launched at Nerriga Hotel on Saturday, 17 October.

The documentary, the first in a planned series of six stories from award-winning filmmaker Clare Young, from Braidwood, and producer Rose Ricketson, from Majors Creek, will premiere on Braidwood’s community radio station, Braidwood FM.

The first episode of The Good People of Nerriga centres on the experience of Phil and Sarah Smith, whose pub, Nerriga Hotel, became a refuge for a town in crisis during the bushfires in late 2019. The documentary comprises the voices of more than 30 bushfires survivors, who tell the story of how the Nerriga community sheltered at the pub as firefighters battled the blaze when the firestorm hit their isolated village on 21 December.

Firetruck in Nerriga during Black Summer bushfires.

Thick smoke blankets Nerriga at 6 pm on 21 December, 2019. Photo: Facebook.

“The Nerriga community has an authentic edge and a lot of heart so it’s been an honour to weave their voices into this story,” says Clare.

“As a community, in the past summer we faced an existential crisis. Taking on this project has been healing for me, too, to meet so many members of our community and listen to their extraordinary first-hand accounts of what happened.

“Together we’ve laughed and together we’ve cried. This shared experience is very powerful. Drawing out the heart of people’s experience and weaving it together to tell a story is what I love best” says Young.

For producer Rose, this project is also of personal significance.

“I am passionate to work on this project, which uses the beauty of storytelling to explore how disaster can bring us together – to celebrate our shared humanity and honour our common desire for belonging,” she says.

Screenshot of NSW Rural Fire Service warning during Black Summer bushfires.

The warning to Nerriga residents from the NSW Rural Fire Service on 21 December, 2019. Image: Facebook.

Composer/musician Michael Simic is also part of the radio documentary series.

“Stories are the lifeblood of community,” he says. “They help us deal with our most difficult trials – fear, tragedy and loss – and then give us hope and bind us together.

“The Good People of Nerriga demonstrates the great courage, generosity and humour of everyday Australians in the face of adversity. It’s been a pleasure to create original music for the story. Getting paid professionally as a composer/musician in these uncertain times is heartening.”

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Nick Munnings is the radio documentary’s sound designer, and he is also a NSW Rural Fire Service firefighter.

“Every time you talk about it [the bushfires] and investigate the experience, it helps you resolve things and provides the opportunity to heal,” he says.

The Good People of Nerriga will premiere at a private community event at Nerriga Hotel hosted by the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s bushfire recovery team, at which Braidwood FM will broadcast live.

Locals at Nerriga Hotel at Christmas.

Just days after the firestorm, and with fires still burning, the local community came together at Nerriga Hotel for Christmas. Photo: Facebook.

The full oral histories recorded for the production will be hosted at the Nerriga Historical Museum and Braidwood Historical Society.

The documentary was funded by Braidwood Community Bank, Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council and the Braidwood Community Help Fund.

Further episodes will focus on the human stories from other bushfire-affected towns in the region, with the aim of using storytelling as a tool for healing and community regeneration.

You can listen to The Good People of Nerriga through Braidwood FM.

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