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Real Life

"We’ll bounce back twice as strong!" This is Batlow, one year on from the devastating bushfires

One fourth generation apple farmer tells us about his miracle comeback after almost losing everything.

By Lizzie Wilson
Batlow apple farmer Cameron Dodds doesn't frighten easily.
So when local police arrived at 2 am on January 1 last year ordering the family to evacuate immediately, the normally calm and collected dad of three didn't waste any time getting out.
"It was terrifying - the fires were out of control and we had minutes to evacuate. I didn't care about anything but getting my wife Netta and our 10-year-old daughter Chloe and our five-year-old twins Oliver and Ellie to safety," Cameron, 39, tells Woman's Day exactly one year on since that near fateful night.
"Netta is a real-life angel. She's extraordinary – she had everything packed for our evacuation, including important documents and provisions for the kids. It was awful leaving the very place that has been in our family for 112 years, worried it might not be there when we returned."
Catching up with Cameron and Netta twelve months on, it's clear this couple have been through plenty since they first met wrote to each other via a magazine feature linked to A Farmer Wants a Wife.
"I saw Cameron [who had appeared on the show] and thought 'gosh, I reckon he's a bit of alright!" Netta, also 39, says with a laugh.
"And the rest is history – he wrote back and we just clicked from the start, and married in 2011. The wedding cake was shaped like a giant red apple!
"The Batlow farming community is the real deal – the bushfires ripped into our landscape, but we never gave up – we always knew we would get through this," she says proudly.
Batlow lost 80 homes and thousands of hectares of agricultural crops, including the Dodds' century-old orchards Robyn Macrae
The mum of three will never forget that terrifying night when police stormed their home.
"It was a holocaust – there's no way to describe the fear. There was a funny moment when young Oliver said 'what about the Lego?!' Cameron ran back for it and as it happens, it kept them occupied for hours during evacuation!" she says now with a wry smile.
Escaping to nearby friends who were not in the fire zone, Cameron, Netta and the children were not the only ones to escape the inferno that night.
"My dad Laurie, mum Beth and my eldest sister Liza, we all live and work the farm together and all got out. Our other sister Stephanie came home from interstate to help us out," Cameron explains.
"I'm the fourth generation of apple and cherry farmers – we're a proud lot. We've got 245 hectares and about 100 head of cattle – it truly is God's country.
Despite the fires, the Dodds are expecting a bumper crop (Robyn Macrae)
"I sat up and watched the news that night and went back the next morning. We thought we'd dodged a bullet - it missed us by a whisker. We actually thought we were out of the woods."
Sadly, that was not to be. Batlow, a picturesque hamlet in the south-west slopes region of NSW, was hit again by more bushfires just days later.
"It came through like a tornado," says Cameron.
"I'll never forget the heat coming through the very ground we've harvested for decades. We lost two-thirds of our property that day - burned to charred remains. We worked day and night from that first scare installing sprinklers on the roof and garage and outbuildings – thankfully, we saved our family home.
"Firefighters worked tirelessly across the community, while our next-door neighbours, the Steinholt family, and another mate, John Robson, stayed here for hours to put things out for us – how do you say thank you for that sort of effort," Cameron says, choking back tears.
The family couldn't be happier! (Robyn Macrae)
Looking good for the 2021 harvest from February to May, Cameron admits he couldn't have done it without his beloved Netta.
"She's remained her true self throughout this – bubbly, solid, happy, positive – she's just amazing. Thank goodness I wrote back to her all those years ago!
"We're excited, despite many of the trees from last year that are heat affected won't bear any fruit this harvest, we will be rewarded with a five-star crop.
"This farmer sure got more than a wife! I got my best mate and a great mum – as a family we will recover and bounce back twice as strong.
"Meantime, we urge every Aussie to buy our apples, and [please come visit Batlow] – our door is always open!"

MEET THE KOALA WHISPERER

Sarah Eccleston is convinced she has the best job in the world. As a senior Koala Specialist at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on Queensland's Gold Coast, the 40-year-old admits the year since the bushfires has been an emotional rollercoaster, caring for so many injured koalas.
"We've had lots of happy ending stories, but sadly a few not so happy. Australia's koala population was hard-hit due to the 2019-2020 bushfires – the statistics are heartbreaking," Sarah tells Woman's Day.
In fact, the figures are staggering – the WWF found that Queensland's numbers have declined by 50% since 2011, while in the New South Wales North-Coast region, an estimated 70% have perished as a result of the bushfires.
Sarah with her inspiration for 
her book, Enzo 
the koala (Robyn Macrae)
"We started and ended 2020 with bushfires – it's one of many perils our koalas face, including loss of habitat, domestic animals who prey on them, and of course our roads."
One little fella who Sarah has cared for since he was a joey is young Enzo, who is the inspiration for a heart-warming children's book Sarah has penned to honour our favourite Aussie icon.
"I wrote Have You Seen A Tree For Me to bring awareness. It's been my passion for the past 22 years – I just want to save every one of them.
"It's the least we can do - they've never needed us more than they do now."

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