Local businesses give Stanthorpe a hand

LAUREN MARTIN

Organisations and local business owners are working to help Stanthorpe residents deal with the ongoing dry conditions the area has been facing, as well as the continuing threat of bushfires.

Mount Marlay in Stanthorpe

Fires burned at Mount Marlay during the recent bushfires and continuing dry conditions mean the fire danger is not over. Photo: Courtesy Gloria Lancaster-Kelly

 

Owners of two local businesses, Rhonda Binnie (who owns the Ritz Performing Arts Centre) and Natalie Yates (who owns NY Dance), are doing their best to help families in Stanthorpe who have been affected by the drought.

The two women have been working together to collect and deliver water to the families of students at their performing arts centres, as well as to their neighbours.

People in the southeast have donated bottled water, as well as money to buy bottled water, to support Ms Binnie’s and Ms Yates’ water drive.

“We took the first 500 litres on Friday to hand out to the families,” Ms Binnie said.

“The children – eight to ten-year-olds – were crying as they picked up their water, they were so happy,” she said.

“My plan is to take… 800 litres a week and we can keep those 30 to 50 families – they are taking it for their relatives and neighbours – in water.”

Ms Binnie and Ms Yates said they hoped to be able to sustain the deliveries throughout summer, provided they received enough water and monetary donations to cover them.

They said the only limitation on their weekly deliveries was the capacity of their cars.

Ms Binnie said the water donations could be the difference between having a bath and going to school dirty for the performing arts centres’ families.

“They’re having baths once a week, this is the children, they’re not allowed to flush the toilet at all,” she said.

”The parents decide when the toilet will be flushed, because they have to account for every drop of water.”

Ms Binnie said she was concerned for the families of her dance studio’s students, as well as the wider community of Stanthorpe, as they brave the summer season.

Water trucks bring supplies to Stanthorpe

Water trucks bring in much needed supplies for the people of Stanthorpe, who face ongoing water restrictions. Photo: Courtesy Rhonda Binnie

 

She said one of her student’s families owned the largest apple orchard in the region and was suffering from the drought and fires.

“Because of the drought, they only worked on half of the orchard this year, because they will have to buy all the water in,” Ms Binnie said.

“All of the orchards had safety nets to protect them from bugs, hail and birds, well the nets caught fire and that spread really fast,” she said.

“They’ve lost thousands and thousands of dollars of netting.”

“They can’t go about their day-to-day lives and do their business, because they’ve got no water.”

Meanwhile, Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) project manager Kerry Battersby said he was using shovel ready plans to assist farms affected by drought and fire across Queensland.

Ms Battersby said shovel ready plans could be put into action quickly to assess damages and begin the recovery process faster.

“QFF and its members work closely with growers to look at how to mitigate the risk of natural disasters and how we can continue business,” Ms Battersby said.

“Shovel ready is a thing QFF have for a recovery program and it means we can get staff on the ground as soon as it is safe,” she said.

Ms Battersby said it could take three to five years for a business to actually recover from a natural disaster.

Ms Battersby said there were many concerns for farmers in difficult times following a natural disaster.

“There will be mental health issues just from the shock and fright of witnessing the bushfire,” she said.

“Farmers live on site [and] they [could] potentially lose their home and livelihood.”

Stanthorpe fire damage

Damage is evident in the bushland surrounding Stanthorpe following the recent bushfires. Photo: Courtesy Rhonda Binnie

 

Ms Battersby said QFF were working with the Queensland government to ensure the interruption to businesses was limited following both bushfires and issues created by the ongoing drought.

“[QFF will] work with [the] Department of Agriculture and fisheries to assist primary producers and help them assess the impact and work towards a speedy recovery,” she said.

“We are pleased to see the speedy response of [the] Queensland government to provide financial assistance.”

In addition to the ongoing issues created by a lack of water in the region, residents in the area also face the ongoing threat of bushfires, as a result of the extremely dry conditions.

The Darling Downs Rural Fire Service is warning farmers and business to prepare their properties for the possibility of more fire damage over the summer season.

The extreme lack of rain has made conditions in the Darling Downs at risk of more bushfires.

Darling Downs Rural Fire Service acting regional manager Tim Chittenden has been fighting fires across Australia for 18 years.

Mr Chittenden said residents needed to make sure vegetation was cleared from around their homes and any structures on their property.

“So there is nothing that is flammable near their home,” he said.

Mr Chittenden said farmers had a lot at risk from fires and had a much larger property maintenance task to improve their fire safety.

“They [should] maintain a network of trails around their property and have good clear access… [in case] fire services need to get onto their property,” he said.

“We have spent a lot of time with the Southern Downs council around access to water supplies, and we have some additional water tanker capacity in that area,” Mr Chittenden said.

“Certainly what [drought] means is all the fuel is available to burn, the ground is very dry.”

Mr Chittenden said planning was essential for fire season to mitigate the possibility of fire causing damage to property, including local businesses in the area.

“We encourage everyone to have a bushfire survival plan, that plan should clearly outline what steps they are going to take,” he said.

“Whether that be stay and defend the property, or leave early, and we really encourage everybody to leave and that’s well before we issue the warning.”

“Once they are aware there is a bushfire in their area they should consider leaving.”

Bushfires destroyed seven homes and damaged many properties as they travelled through the Granite Belt earlier this month.

Stanthorpe High Street

Business owners evacuated Stanthorpe’s High Street during the recent bushfires as fire threatened their stores. Photo: Courtesy Gloria Lancaster-Kelly

 

Rhonda Binnie’s performing arts centre also faced evacuation during the recent fires in Stanthorpe.

Ms Binnie said she had been teaching a dance class when she was alerted to the impending danger from the bushfire.

A local fire brigade volunteer, who was also the father of one of Ms Binnie’s students, instructed the dance teacher to evacuate the Centre.

“He didn’t think the actual fires would reach us, but [thought] the smoke would get so bad [that] we wouldn’t be able to breathe,” Ms Binnie said.

“We put our evac plan into place immediately, the only thing we had to change was our normal meeting place, as it’s outside the building,” she said.

All students were collected by their parents within 20 minutes.

“When we came out with our bags and computers, there were flames across the street,” Ms Binnie said.

“As we drove away from the flames the police were coming to close off the roads and I was the last car out,” she said.

“If I had made the decision to finish the class then go, rather than acting immediately, I don’t know we would have got out in time.”

Ms Binnie said she had evacuation plans for her studio, and sufficient fire alarms and extinguishers, but, as a consequence of the recent bushfires, said she was reviewing the strategy about smoke.

“In the short term [the dance studio] doesn’t need to worry because we are surrounded by black [burnt grass], we have a fire barrier around us,” Ms Binnie said.

“Going ahead, one of the things I need to look at is changing our evacuation plan if it is a bush fire,” she said.

“I haven’t thought of [smoke masks], but I am writing that [idea] down.”

To donate water to families in Stanthorpe, contact The Ritz Performing Arts Centre.

To download a bushfire survival plan, visit Rural Fire Service.

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