Open for Business: How tiny town lost everything in Northern Rivers bushfires

02 March 2021

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AUSTRALIA – In a matter of moments, nearly every single resident from a community of 300 in Northern NSW lost almost everything.

A vibrant township sitting within a Northern Rivers valley, residents of Nymboida have three words to describe the scenes they encountered in early November 2019 when destruction took hold: “Wall of fire.”

Nymboida, a small community of little more than 300 residents, was among the worst-affected areas by the fires that ripped through the region. It caused such destruction, just three people from the entire community escaped property damage.

“The fire came through covering a massive area,” Gray Stride, local resident and director of Nymboida Camping and Canoeing, said in an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire-affected communities, Open for Business.

Through tears, Mr Stride said that the intensity of the fire meant that the community “lost a third of all the homes in the valley” and that the devastation still feels raw for the township.

Dave Newby, a local to the region, said the day the fire blitzed through his hometown of nearby Rappville coincided with the “worst drought” the region had ever been through.

“[The ground] was dry as chips,” he explained.

“That day [the fire arrived] was the day from hell … it was horrible.”

Well over 12 months on, parts of Nymboida remains dotted with the rubble of the lost homes, but with time parts of the region have been able to rebuild.

Mr Stride’s Camping and Canoeing centre was the heart of the village’s recovery efforts in the months following the devastation by supplying donated food, tools, clothes and essential information about where to find support to members of the region.

Today, he says the recovery for the broader community is still in the rebuild mode at a “pace that the people want it to move forward … the recovery is happening”.

Mr Stride said now more than ever the community needs visitors to the region known for the picturesque regions of Clarence Valley and the Richmond Valley.

As a region home to lush hinterland, quaint towns, glorious rivers and valleys, the less than eight-hour journey from Sydney has something for every kind of holiday-maker.

“Looking around now … a lot of the birds have come back … wallabies you can see while you’re out riding and it’s probably bigger and better than it was before,” Lindsay Wootten, President of the Northern Rivers Dirty Wheels Mountain Bike Club, said.

“The Northern Rivers region of NSW is an absolute gem. We have fantastic beaches and most of them are very uncrowded. There’s beautiful mountains inland and lovely rivers … really we have everything here.”

But Mr Wootten said that while the region is popular, it takes little effort to escape the crowds and be alone with nature.

“It’s a big area and you can always find a place for yourself.”

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