Pubs, industry rally around bushfire-affected communities

11 November, 2019 by Vanessa Cavasinni

With devastating bushfires raging around New South Wales and Queensland, pubs and their suppliers have stepped up to support the firefighters and communities affected.

At time of publication, there are said to be more than 100 fires burning across New South Wales and Queensland, with 80 burning in New South Wales alone. One hundred and fifty homes have been destroyed and at least three people have been confirmed dead.

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New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian today declared a state of emergency that will stay in place for seven days, the first time since 2013 since such a declaration had to be made.

“We know the weather forecast for tomorrow is at catastrophic levels, and based on that plus the conditions we’ve experienced in the last few days, I’ve accepted the advice of Commissioner Fitzsimmons and declared a state of emergency across NSW.

“This means that Commissioner Fitzsimmons has authority to undertake whatever he needs to do, whatever decision he needs to take, to ensure that we protect life and property as much as possible tomorrow. I want to assure the people of NSW that this is a precautionary stance, this is to make sure that we leave no stone unturned to keep our community safe tomorrow,” stated the Premier.

Community support

In Port Macquarie, scenes on Friday shocked Australians across the country as the sky turned bright orange from surrounding fires, and the Pacific Highway was closed.

“Friday was like Armageddon. It was unbelievable. It’s really eerie. Outside of the volunteers on the front line, there’s not much you can do other than sitting here and praying,” says Settlers Inn publican, Alistair Flower.

At one stage on Friday, the fires got within kilometres of the pub, but have currently moved away from the city centre.

“Today’s good, but everyone is preparing for Tuesday which is the real challenge, when they’re expecting the wind to really pick up and for everyone to be in a bit of trouble.”

With hundreds of firefighters fighting blazes all along the north coast of New South Wales, Flower both reached out to accommodation coordinators and put the call out on Facebook to give the volunteers use of the rooms to recuperate.

“They’re not five star, but I can assure people that the showers are warm, the pillows are soft and the beers are cold. Thankfully [the post] did what it was supposed to do, and we got all of the beds filled within the hour.”

People from communities that were evacuated were also given use of the rooms as they waited to hear the fate of their homes, and firefighters who were staying at nearby motels were invited to have a beer on the house at both pubs.

Other venues are also rallying around their communities, with The Pub With No Beer in Taylors Arms acting as an evacuation centre, the Willawarrin Hotel acting as gathering point for local residences who have been bussed into town centres, and the Old Bar Tavern also putting on food and drinks for emergency services.

Suppliers have also stepped up to help out, with the likes of CUB and PFD Food Services donating food and beverage, to match the generosity of publicans, and help recharge first responders.

Flower says that it’s only natural for publicans with a real sense of community to step up in such trying times.

“Everybody rallies — the amount of community support has been overwhelming. When you are a community leader, as pubs generally are, you need to be at the forefront at times like this.

“We’ve got facilities, we’ve got options for people. We’re not using them, so the community can.”

Conditions are expected to worsen on Tuesday, with current forecasts listing catastrophic fire danger for the Greater Sydney and Greater Hunter regions. This is the first time Sydney has faced a catastrophic warning in the 10 year history of fire danger warnings. Residents all over New South Wales are urged to keep up to date with alerts for their local areas.

Emergency information from the Rural Fire Service can be found here.