OPINION

FireAid 2020 shone a light for all our bushfire heroes and survivors

"We were the managers of this land for 40,000 years, let's work together to manage it for another 40,000 years."

This was the message of Aboriginal Elder Aunty Sharon as she addressed the crowd at FireAid 2020 in the lead up to Welcome to Country.

It is also just one of many moving moments in an event that unified our community in the face of bushfire crisis.

Some of Australia and our region's most renowned entertainers drew in an ever-growing crowd of friends, family, neighbours and visitors from other regions to the charity concert at Bong Bong Picnic Race course.

According to one of the driving forces behind the January 24 event, John Waters, about 6000 people had rolled up for the special occasion.

Waters, and fellow-entertainer Leo Sayer, with the support of various businesses and individuals, pulled the event together in about three weeks to raise funds for the NSW RFS and people impacted by recent devastating bushfires.

It also aimed to bring people to the area to boost businesses that had struggled, and continued to struggle, through the crisis. Some businesses were set up to serve food and drinks on the perimeters of the concert venue. The hope is that others will be boosted by people who also get out and about in the Highlands community to see all of what this wonderful region has to offer.

And guiding the smooth run of the evening in her quick-witted style was RocKwiz host Julia Zemiro.

Aussie entertainment all-rounder Justine Clarke proved a hit with the kids to kick off the event. She was followed by an impressive mix of local and regional performers including Ella's Holiday, Angus Murray, Alex and Nyssa Bunyan, Heart Beats Mind, Ruby Tuesday's from Wollongong and Screaming Eagles from the Central Coast.

As Jeff Duff packed the mosh pit with a performance of the David Bowie classic Heroes the scene for the evening was well and truly set.

The crowd was clearly excited by the opportunity to listen to old-favourite musical hits, catch up with friends, and immerse themselves in an environment that was buoyed by resilience, connection, determination to survive and hope.

There was compassion and generosity to the many people who had battled or been hit hard by bushfires in recent months. Many were among the crowd, some working as volunteers or on stage to ensure that their community stayed unified in the push for recovery.

But perhaps the most poignant moment of all was when the water bombing helicopter, fondly known as Elvis, circled overhead in a show of acknowledgement to all who had gathered below. Everyone looked to the sky to wave in gratitude.

It was a defining moment that reminded all that while they gathered in a show of support and unity, the bushfires continued to rage in many parts of the country including our own backyard.

There were many other stand out moments throughout the evening and some special messages. Few said it better than Aunty Sharon as she welcomed all to Gundungurra country at Bong Bong .

"Mother Earth needs our help," she said. "Almost all our traditional country is on fire.

"But I feel confident that into the future the we can form an alliance to fight fire through traditional and non-traditional methods."

Aunty Sharon said she was confident that with a combination of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal methods "we'll do better" with land management.

A performance by Kangaroo Valley resident Michelle Palmer, who lost her home in the bushfires, tugged at the heartstrings of all.

She said she learned of the loss several days later while in the main street in Kangaroo Valley. Her friend also learned that her home had been lost.

"About five or 10 minutes later people were coming up to hug us," she said.

"It was a surreal day, we cried and cried," she said.

Michelle said she won't be rebuilding. She is going to buy a caravan and travel around the country helping others.

Andy Thompson from T-Guitars in Bowral also shared his story of the loss of his home in Bundanoon. Andy and his expectant wife are now living in a caravan.

Andy set the beat on the drums at several points throughout the night. He also donated one of his custom guitars for auction. It was played by two-time Aria award-winning Megan Washington during the evening before fetching an impressive winning auction bid of $5000.

The stories, fundraising through an auction and the incredible entertainment continued for more than seven hours.

This was a night to be remembered.

And no doubt many left the grounds with a favourite tune in their head.

I woke the following morning with my mind still flitting between verses of John Paul Young's Yesterday's Hero, and Daryl Braithwaite's classic Horses.

My house guests, who had traveled from Canberra to show their support for the event and our community were quietly replaying different songs in their head - You make me feel like dancing and Summer love were both mentioned.

And all agreed that the John Waters' led rendition of the John Lennon classic Imagine was a fitting wrap to an amazing event.

Well done to everyone involved - it was definitely a night to remember. This event put a spotlight on many heroes, yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's and showcased the resilience and connection of our community. I am so glad I was there to witness it.

The amount of money raised was not confirmed at the time of publication.

It has been Australia's lost summer. Drought, hail, floods and, worst of all, bushfires have ravaged communities all over the nation. But the selfless actions of friends, family, neighbours, strangers, local groups and volunteer organisations have inspired us and strengthened the bonds of community. Please join us in saying thanks to the heroes of the home front by sharing your stories of gratitude. To salute a person or a group, please use the form below.

This story FireAid 2020 shone a light for all our heroes and survivors first appeared on Southern Highland News.