Rappville resolves to rise from the ashes

11 February 2020

Vinnies is continuing to distribute bushfire relief funds and provide food, groceries, clothing, fuel vouchers, and other essentials for people suffering through the Australian bushfires.

Across the country, we have now given out more than $7 million in direct cash payments to families who have been evacuated from their homes, or experienced property damage or loss – all thanks to the incredible community support for the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal.

This is in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on material assistance, and more than $2.4 million distributed by Vinnies on behalf of the Federal Government’s Emergency Relief Fund.

Here in NSW, we continue to station our volunteers in recovery centres, attend community meetings, and reach out to areas in need to offer our assistance. Anyone needing help can call us on 13 18 12.

Here is the story of one of the many people we’ve worked with to support local communities: Dave Newby from Rappville.

Dave Newby at work in Rappville’s in-town timber mill

Dave’s story

For more than a century, the northern NSW village of Rappville was a thriving community, riding high on successful cattle and timber production businesses.

In the 1980s times got tougher for the small, inland town, as the railway station on the Sydney-to-Brisbane line closed. Rappville largely faded from the public consciousness, until October 2019, when it burst back into view for all the wrong reasons.

The town was one of the first victims of Australia’s bushfire season, losing 44 homes along with scores of outbuildings, kilometres of fencing and the livestock it contained, and much native wildlife.

One of 44 destroyed homes in Rappville

Dave Newby, an archetypal ‘Aussie character’, works at the in-town timber mill. It’s a small operation, just a handful of workers, and was lucky to survive. Now, Dave has become a core member of a committee aimed at helping the area to recover.

“Vinnies’ support has been unbelievable,” Dave said. “What you’re doing to help us come to terms with this disaster, and help us plan for the future, is really fantastic.”

Around 50 people from Rappville have received emergency cash payments from Vinnies, thanks to generous community donations to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal. Across the Richmond Valley area, we have distributed around $250,000 so far to help people like the residents of Rappville, and will keep going until every last donated dollar is put to good use.

Dave has worked closely with Vinnies volunteer leader, Mick Albany, to deliver support to his community

Dave shook his head in disbelief as he recalled the terrifying events of the day that Rappville was so close to being completely lost. He was on the front lines of defending the timber mill from the fire.

“Helped by the RFS and others, we worked like crazy to keep the flames away from the log piles, the milled timber and the wooden beams supporting the whole operation,” he said.

“We’d emptied all the on-site water tanks and, almost miraculously, managed to save the show. But then we noticed the end of one of the roof beams was sparking into life, and all we had left was one drink bottle – we used the last drops to extinguish the end of this terrible fire.”

Less fortunate was the Tarmac mill, a few kilometres out of town. A much larger operation, it was totally destroyed and in the process around 30 jobs were lost, a major blow to a community where employment is hard to find. The site is being bulldozed and cleared for rebuilding.

 

The Tarmac sawmill and the Commercial Hotel – victims of bushfires and regional decline

Other collateral damage was the lovely Commercial Hotel, opened by the town’s namesake, Henry Rapp in 1888. Although undamaged by the fire, its doors are now closed, and a ‘For Sale’ sign flaps in the breeze. It is a pub with no beer, no customers and, for now, little chance of a buyer.

Yet Rappville Public School, with a strong enrolment, is a survivor and a sign of hope for the community’s future. This is symbolised by an extraordinary mural of a phoenix rising from the ashes, painted by Byron Bay artist Austin Moncrieff, a.k.a. Nitsua.

For now, Rappville is a town with an uncertain future, but no shortage of dedicated and hard-working locals determined to rebuild. Vinnies is committed to being there for the long journey towards recovery, and our volunteer members in nearby Casino have offered their ongoing support. This week, they plan to meet with more than 20 Rappville locals to arrange further help from Vinnies.

“Dave is a classic example of the guts, determination and resilience of these wonderful bushies,” said Mick Albany, Vinnies’ Regional President. “If Rappville survives, it will be because of the Social Club led by Dave, and the firies – mostly the same people.”

Dave has a heartfelt message for everyone who donated to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal: “From the bottom of our hearts, thanks for your support. It’s unbelievable what you’re doing for us. Our community is absolutely shattered, but it gives us strength to know we’re not doing it alone.”

Rappville’s new mural of a phoenix rising from the ashes, painted by Nitsua