3 April 2023

Tumbarumba's resurrection rewarded at pinnacle of national tourism industry

| Edwina Mason
Start the conversation

The Tumba team (from left) Monique Ciampa, Tamikah Hoffman (foreground), Cathy Gairn, Sophie Gairn, Karly Finn and Brian Gairn with a sign of things to come in a little ray of sunshine, prior to the recent 2022 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards ceremony in Sydney. Image: Courabyra Wines.

Cathy and Brian Gairn arrived in Tumbarumba from Melbourne in 1983, planted their first vines in 1992, and tended, nurtured, reaped, crushed, pressed, fermented, aged and bottled the cool climate fruits of their labour for 30 years.

The past three brought catastrophic fire and a global pandemic to their doorstep but proof that “it’s always the darkest before the dawn” came in the form of a silver trophy this month, placing them and their popular business – Courabyra Wines – at the pinnacle of the national tourism industry.

On the same night, Tumbafest – that great annual February festival celebrating the produce of the region amid music and fanfare – was awarded a bronze trophy in an outcome that was sweetly serendipitous, as side by side the compatriots from the little mountain town celebrated the greatest comeback of the century.

READ ALSO Macquarie Perch population in peril as blue-green algae alert switches to red at Mannus Lake

Just three years ago the outlook from the local hospital on the hill was simply black, scorched hills with hundreds of locals limping back home following an evacuation of the town as the Dunns Road Fire tore across 330,000 hectares, destroying more than 180 homes and killing thousands of livestock.

Brian and Cathy Gairn with their daughter Sophie

Brian and Cathy Gairn (right) with daughter Sophie after winning silver at the 2020 Qantas National Tourism Awards. Image: Courabyra Wines.

But last Friday was the night Tumbarumba, tucked away in the upper reaches of the Snowy Valleys shire with its population of 1682 people, finally got to shine at the glittering 2022 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards annual gala at Darling Island in Sydney.

This is the night of nights, where industry unite under one roof to celebrate the premier tourism businesses in the country and reveal the gold, silver and bronze national winners in 25 categories.

All nominees have reached the status of excellence in tourism and business. Their own state puts them forward for a night of reflection, triumph and solidarity.

Courabyra were awarded the silver trophy in the Tourism Wineries, Distilleries and Breweries category at the national awards night while Tumbafest took bronze in the Festivals and Events category for their 2022 event.

Cathy Gairn said she didn’t even hear who had won the Tourism Wineries, Distilleries and Breweries award as their team, comprising all NSW tourism finalists, was screaming so much.

She said messages of support around the win had been overwhelming.

READ ALSO Second case of Murray Valley encephalitis detected in NSW

“It’s a surreal feeling that our family business in the tiny town of Tumbarumba could come this far and be second in the country,” she said. “We have had an amazing journey to get to this point and have worked incredibly hard, overcoming many challenges over the years.”

Cathy admits, in the face of these challenges, it would have been an easy solution to close and retire, “but then we think of the staff and the customers who have kept coming back over the years and kept us pushing through”.

“We are so thankful for the opportunity to share our passion for food and wine with everyone who comes our way.

“We always believed in the tourism potential of the region, that’s why we moved here from Melbourne and now I see it as the great driver for the economy. We have a great spirit up here, it’s really hit its stride,” Cathy said.

“NSW only won nine awards nationally and two were from Tumbarumba,” she said, “so that says a lot.”

 Tumbafest's Tamikah Hoffman and Karly Finn

Tumbafest’s Tamikah Hoffman and Karly Finn were thrilled with their bronze trophy. Image: Cathy Gairn.

Tumbafest organisers said winning bronze had been serendipitous.

“We couldn’t ask for a better way to continue the celebrations from our 25th anniversary!” they said in a statement.

“Thank you to everyone who’s part of our event from our committee and incredibly generous sponsors right through to stallholders, entertainers and you, our beloved festivalgoers.”

The Australian Tourism Awards are the industry’s national standard of excellence.

Finalists are chosen from each state’s gold winners and are then put to a panel of expert industry judges, where a winner of the nation is then crowned.

Snowy Valleys Mayor Ian Chaffey, in congratulating Courabyra and Tumbafest, said he knew something of the extreme hard work and efforts of both entities, especially rising from the adversity of the Black Summer bushfires and COVID-19.

“Look what they have achieved during some of the toughest times we have faced,” he said. “It’s made us very proud and has certainly put Tumbarumba on the tourist map.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.