A red dot in the hazy western sky descends to the horizon while the evening news shows fires on Sydney's rim. Thousands of people have volunteered their time to fight the fires or to support the firefighters in feeding, watering and sheltering the crews. Houses and sheds had been lost; many had been saved.
As informative as the news reports have been and as graphic as the footage is that was shown, the real impact of the devastation to the communities is only clear when travelling through and seeing for yourself what has happened. The TV is great, but it is still only a window, almost like a barrier that dissociates you from what you are seeing.
Riding through the Colo Vale and Hill Top to check on a family farm, a quiet apprehension settled on the streets. Through the smoke-filled air, cars were parked in front of houses in anticipation to leave. No people were seen in their yards or local shops, possibly listening to the radio for updates. Luckily houses were saved but the surrounding bush is charred. As the wind changes direction toward town, the sky gets darker and thumping blades of a Bell Huey are heard getting closer. A silhouette of the chopper cruises past, just above the trees canopy surveying the ground below, a water hose dangles from its undercarriage. The RFS did a wonderful job and the town is safe for the moment.
Of course, we need to support and praise the RFS as much as we can to ensure they have the appropriate resources to carry out the vital service they give to our communities. But at the same time, we also need to support these communities, villages and towns that have been affected by fires, long-lasting droughts, floods or any other natural disaster. Very simply put, we need country towns survival for urban survival. They relieve congestion in urban areas, they supply us with produce, they help our mental state by relaxing in open green spaces
A month after the fires, when they are not featured on the nightly news, we are likely to forget what has happened during the summer and moved on to the next major story. The rural towns and villages will still be coming to terms with their losses and will defiantly rebuild.
In the Southern Highlands, Bowral is a major business hub for the district and quite elegant in its architecture and the is renowned for its shops, galleries, vineyards and is a perfect stopping point before exploring the neighboring towns.
The best ways of supporting these communities is by visiting them. Often these towns have a whole history that you never knew about. Stories of an Aboriginal past you may not have known existed, stories of bushrangers or drovers are also common. These towns also rely on passing trade to keep them alive and rely on their outlying areas to supply fresh produce for their cafes, their weekend markets, often, they have cottage industries that produce craftworks, jams honey artworks that you don't find in major stores specializing in mass-produced goods.
For the foodies, these towns also have fantastic wineries and restaurants that can be better than those in the city.
Through the year it is good to embark on a road trip through the country and explore what's there. Buy a gift for your wife or a bottle of wine to take home. Buy a beer for a mate. Take a group of friends on a cherry-picking excursion when in season.