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Local recovery officer makes all the difference


A story from Tooma in NSW, reflecting life in October 2020

Tooma is a small village in the Riverina Upper Murray region of NSW. It is nestled in the valley of the Snowy Mountains on the banks of the renowned three bridges of Tumbarumba and Mannus Creeks. It is home to one of Australia’s oldest continuously operating post offices - which opened on 1 January 1873.

Tree-changers Kris and Trev Mackay moved to this small village from far north Queensland to run the local pub, the Tooma Inn, in May 2019.  Built in 1879, the Tooma Inn is listed on the historic register.

“We were both shift workers, and we didn’t see each other so we thought this would be a good idea,” laughs Kris. “It’s only the pub and the B&B next door, and up the next road there’s the post office and that’s about it, the rest is just farms. It’s only a village and there’s probably 100 people in the area.”

They had only lived in Tooma for seven months before the Black Summer bushfires hit.

“The fire came through on the fourth of January. The fire tornados came down the surrounding hills to across the road and were basically on three sides of us. It was about 55 degrees inside the pub and the winds were 110 kilometres per hour that evening,” explained Kris. 
Kris and Trev were fortunate – after the fire everything was still standing but badly damaged. They lost power for six weeks but managed to keep the doors open.

“We opened the pub’s doors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We started a donation centre – we got lots of things donated to us whether it be meat, pet supplies or tinned food, fresh fruit and veg and personal items. We got a group together and we went around and donated it to people – just giving it away, just making sure everyone had food,” said Kris. “We had free BBQ dinners for the local community so they didn’t have to work all day cleaning up and then have to find something to cook.”

“We didn’t really think of what we needed at that time. We left all our stuff until we had everyone else sorted. It would have been the end of February before we started thinking about ourselves,” she said.

It has been a tough road to recovery but now 10 months on the pub is doing well – and Kris says she is so grateful for her local Recovery Support Officer, Susan Jackson.

Recovery Support Officers (RSOs) from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency help support the recovery of bushfire-affected communities. RSOs work with local and state government counterparts to ensure a coordinated approach to locally led recovery.

“Susan Jackson is the one who has done everything for us. I would not have had a clue what to do or where to go. I met Sue through her coming here to meet everybody, as part of the recovery team. All credit to Sue, she helped us with everything to do with small businesses and get us back up and running said Kris. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused problems as Kris and Trev’s family live in Queensland.

“We left our six children and 12 grandchildren in Mackay. We have one granddaughter we haven’t met yet – she was born in October last year and she’ll be one on 28 October. We cannot wait to see them and miss them more now than ever over the last 18 months of not being able to visit."