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REBUILD OUR TOWNS: NSW’s Glen Innes is determined to rise from the ashes – here’s how you can help

'We’ll take it one small step at a time.'
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If you were to ask any one of the locals from the town of Glen Innes how they’re holding up in the aftermath of bushfires that raged through the community, you won’t hear a single complaint.

The inhabitants of this steely town and its surrounding villages nestled in the NSW Northern Tablelands are resilient to the bone and tougher than a pair of well-worn boots.

This tiny town is determined to rise from the ashes.

(Image: Getty)

“We’ve lost so much, but the focus now is to wipe off the ash and get back up and be stronger than ever,” deputy mayor Di Newman tells Woman’s Day. “We’re a close-knit community, and we’re determined to rebuild.”

And it’s a heartfelt statement that echoes throughout the area.

WATCH: These two koalas rescued from the bushfires are eating again. Story continues below…

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In November last year – while already battling the worst droughts in history – Mother Nature delivered another cruel blow on Glen Innes when a catastrophic fireball of bush flames left what was a rich agricultural area in ashen ruins.

The entire community was broken, including the small hamlet of Wytaliba, east of Glen Innes. The locals tragically lost three of their most-loved elders, Vivian Chaplain, Julie Fletcher and George Nole, in the fire. The heartbreak was unfathomable, and to add to that 70 homes went up in flames and the local primary school burned to the ground.

“We were rocked to the core,” says Di. “The priority now is to get the school rebuilt – we’ve 15 primary aged students, and the principal Debbie Hunter is extraordinary and making a difference to those kids’ lives.

“Right now the focus is to get things cleaned up, which takes lots of manpower to coordinate. We have to balance that and rebuilding with the ongoing care of our farmers – they can’t be overlooked.

“They’re also our RFS members – they were the ones out there fighting the fires and looking after their neighbours,” Di said.

REBUILD OUR TOWNS: Each week Woman’s Day will shine a spotlight on a town sharing information with our readers about how they can help. See www.rebuildourtowns.com.au

The town was ravaged by a wall of fire.

(Image: Getty)

“The best way to help us is come and visit! We’ve the Glen Innes Show coming up in February, and it’s the best classic country show in Australia! We’ll show you warm country hospitality at its best,” Di added.

“Book a motel, drop into the Railway Hotel for a beer, walk down Grey Street and shop at any one of our gorgeous gift stores. Even give Hugh a call over at the Norco Rural Store and buy a bag of stock feed.

“We won’t be beaten, come on out and say g’day! We might be in drought, we might be battle weary from the fires, but we’ll always be smiling – it’s going to get better.”

‘They need to feel like kids again’

It was Friday, November 8 – a day that 27-year-old Wytaliba resident Storm Sparks will never forget. Hugging her one-year-old son Zeke, silent tears rolled down her cheeks as she watched in horror as the town’s little school was swallowed up by flames.

“We were home and the fire was coming for us, so I grabbed Zeke and we took refuge on the school oval. The flames engulfed everything in seconds,” Storms remembers.

The fires destroyed much of Wytaliba, including the school.

(Image: Tony Grant)

The local school was first opened in 1984, with Storm’s grandmother Carol Sparks, the current mayor of Glen Innes, helping to establish it.

“I went there from Kindy to Grade 5, and Zeke would have been attending his playgroup this year. It’s going to be a difficult time for us all, but we have to rally and stay strong,” she says.

Storm, along with her partner Al, who stayed to fight the fires and suffered serious burns to his arms, have lost everything, including the family’s home.

“Everyone in the community has suffered great loss. Once construction starts on the school, we’re going to need so many resources,” Storm tells. “But we will bounce back. The 15 kids who go to the school need to get back with their friends so they can feel like kids again.

“I want Zeke to know his mummy helped recreate the school his great-grandmother built. I want these kids to have only happy memories, and no more sad ones.”

Storm, with her son Zeke, lost everything in the blaze.

(Image: Tony Grant)

How to help Glen Innes

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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