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REBUILD OUR TOWNS: The townsfolk of Batlow are bowling their way back from the bushfires

''We've never seen a town more united''
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The magnificent Batlow battlers from the local lawn bowls club have become a symbol of hope for the small NSW town after it was brought to its knees by the recent bushfires.

With the full force of the club’s 85 members, this resilient brigade is more determined than ever to rise from the ashes and restore the town to its former glory – just ask keen bowlers, identical twins Kathy Hamilton and Janice Cobden!

“We might be a population of only 1450 people here in Batlow, but this wonderful hub is more than just a lawn bowls club – it’s a place where we get to have a good old laugh and support one another, despite all the terrible suffering we’ve endured these past few months,” 67-year-old Kathy tells Woman’s Day just as her sister Janice jumps in to have her two cents worth.

“We have members of all ages, from our 11-year-old champion, Stevie Houting, to dear old Johnny Melrose and the charming Ian Bunter, who are both 90! They take it very seriously, especially the coveted Sedgwick Shield on a Wednesday night – but then there’s the Friday night comp, which is ‘mufti’ attire (come as you like) and that can get a little bit crazy!” Janice chuckles.

Kathy (right) and Janice are leading the charge to deliver hope.

(Image: Robyn MacRae)

Batlow made the headlines for being one of the hardest hit regions during the bushfires after being cruelly battered twice in one week. At the time, authorities deemed the picturesque hamlet on the edge of the Great Dividing Range in the south-west slopes region of NSW to be “undefendable,” with a dire warning for locals and tourists to “leave or you will die”.

We lost 80 homes and thousands of hectares of prime orchards and agricultural crops, along with three pine forests and much of our native wildlife,” says Kathy.

“We’re famous for our apples and the industry is reeling – there wouldn’t be an Aussie who hasn’t crunched into a Batlow beauty!”

“We’re famous for our apples and the industry is reeling,” Kathy explains.

(Image: Robyn MacRae)

Born in the region 67 years ago, the same year the Bowls Club was founded, the lovable twins hail from one of the most respected families in the district – with almost their entire clan keen lawn bowlers!

“Our parents were locals, and they loved what the club stood for in our community. Our incredible family matriarch Auntie Hazel (Butz) is 97 and alive and well – and she’s only just stopped bowling!” says Kathy.

Locals and club members young and old are leaning on each other in the wake of the fires.

(Image: Robyn MacRae)

“The club is run entirely by volunteers – no government grants here! We have an army of helpers to oversee the green-keeping, the cleaning, running the bar, along with the rest of what goes into keeping us afloat.

“It’s what makes us Aussies unique – they breed us tough and kind, and very no-nonsense, which is how this place has survived all these years.

WATCH: Prince Charles’ emotional message to Australia after bushfire crisis. Story continues below…

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“The club thankfully was saved, but we have members who have lost everything and a few of our local RFS volunteers, who are also clubbies, did everything they could to save those homes – we’ve never seen a town 
more united.”

But the twins agree the most heartwarming story to emerge from the ashes is that of local woman Cherylyn Casey, whose husband Alan stayed to fight the fire and saved their home.

Batlow was one of the hardest hit regions of this summer’s bushfires.

(Image: Robyn MacRae)

It was a deserving reward and happy ending for a brave mum and grandma after her own battle with brain cancer over the past few years.

“Cheryln is a true inspiration and she’s the real hero. Losing your property is one thing, but she has her life, her home and her precious family,” Kathy says with a warm smile. “And for the Batlow Bowls Club, that’s all that really matters.”

How you can help Batlow

•The Batlow Bowlie’s big brother is the neighbouring RSL club with more than 800 members. Say hi to the friendly general manager Kylie Boxsell and enjoy a feed at their popular restaurant. batlowrsl.com.au (02) 6949 1040

• Take a road trip with the family and check out Batlow. visitnsw.com/destinations/snowy-mountains/tumut-area/batlow

•Save the date for the famous Batlow Cider Festival in May.[visitnsw.com/destinations/snowy-mountains/tumut-area/batlow/events/batlow-ciderfest]

•Stay at Batlow Caravan Park – it’s back open for business after the fires. (02) 6949 1444

•Get your fruit fix and say g’day to Ralph and Judy Wilson at the Wilgro Orchard road stall. wilgroorchards.com.au

•Book a stay at the only motel in town, The Apple Inn, and meet manager Nina Adams, who lost her home in the fires but hasn’t missed a day looking after her guests. 1 Tumbarumba Road, Batlow (02) 6949 1342 appleinn.com.au

•Feast on superb pub grub at the famous Batlow Hotel. Owners Matt and Linda offer old-fashioned country hospitality at its best. batlow-hotel.business.site

•Local Obsession Wines owner Adrian Brayne lost almost all his vineyards, but the cellar door survived. Go online and order! obsessionwines.com.au

Rebuild our towns

There’s not a single Australian who hasn’t had their hearts broken by the horrific bushfires that have swept through our country. The road to rebuild will be long but as a nation we will: brick by brick, fence by fence.

Bauer Media launched this campaign to help our neighbours in their time of need.

Each week Bauer’s portfolio of magazines (print and digital), led by Woman’s Day, will shine a spotlight on a town sharing information with our readers about how they can help, from the best fundraisers to donate to that specifically benefit the locals, to products they can buy from that town or region that support small businesses there.

We’ll highlight the farmers who need fencing supplies, the schools which are short of books and pencils, the yoga school that needs mats or how to plan a getaway to the region when the time is right to bolster their local tourism industry.

The Rebuild Our Towns campaign is centred on the fact that practical help doesn’t have to cost a fortune.

Our love and thoughts go out to every person, but actions speak louder than words, so join us to make a difference and help our heartland heal.

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