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Victoria bushfire recovery

Thursday, April 2, 2009
The world was shocked as bushfires swept a cruel path through Victorian in February 2009. The fires showed no mercy and with the assistance of high winds, left a trail of devastation in what was to become Australia's most serious natural disaster.

Those who are getting their lives back together stress that they need your patronage. There is nothing to fear; the worst is over. Please think about visiting them, see how they are rebuilding and help them in their efforts.

The carnage began on Saturday, February 7, 2009. Seventy-eight towns and 408,000 hectares of land were impacted, 460km of road damaged and hundreds of tourism businesses suffered.

Most people in the small towns lived as well as worked there. Some lost their homes, some lost their businesses — the really tragic stories are of those who lost both.

Jules Lund and his wife felt the grief. Just three weeks prior to the fires they enjoyed the happiest day of their lives when they were married in the Yarra Valley. They were so concerned about the many friends they had there. Fortunately they all survived.

Jules wanted to pay tribute to those whose losses have changed their lives forever, and to those who went to their assistance.

Yarra Valley and Beechworth

Around an hour from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is one of Australia's best-known and loved wine-producing regions. Its surrounding hills bore the brunt of the fires, although the valley itself was largely untouched with just 10 percent of vineyards destroyed. Green vines stopped the flames from reaching many buildings.

Fires were reported from Yarra Glen through to Healesville and beyond and even surviving wineries and vineyards didn't avoid some damage.

While everyone is putting their lives back together and helping neighbours to do the same, they ask that you support them by choosing Yarra Valley wines in restaurants and bottle shops and return to the famous food trail soon. They want the world to know they are open for business and ready to welcome visitors.

Healesville Sanctuary is one of Australia's most acclaimed wildlife sanctuaries with more than 200 species of Australian wildlife living in 30 hectares of natural habitat.

Thankfully, evacuation was carried out in time and 200 of the most endangered animals were moved to Melbourne Zoo and Werribee Open Range Zoo. Another 800 remained on site and have survived.

The zoo closed temporarily and a reduced number of staff worked overtime to assist in treating injured animals including koalas, possums, echidnas and lyrebirds with burnt feet or lung damage.

Visitor numbers are way down and you are urged to return and support the sanctuary in their quest to comfort orphans and help burned and injured animals recover.

On the bright side, a baby platypus named Ember was recently born. The breeding is a world first so there is something to celebrate.

Three hours north-east of the Yarra Valley is the former gold mining town, Beechworth. Fires in the area destroyed 31,000 hectares of land and 29 homes were destroyed. Fires broke out 4km away but miraculously, most of the town remains intact.

It has 30 National Trust-listed buildings, 19th-century streetscapes, fine antique stores and great places to eat. The town is another good one to put on your list of places to visit.

The Harrises own the Stanley Hotel. They lost their home and if business doesn't improve, their livelihood is at risk. While bushland has been ravaged, there is no danger in visiting, and already Mother Nature has stepped in and new growth is evident.

Beechworth Honey lost more than 6 million bees in the fires and while they are busy rebuilding their hives, we can help by buying their honey when we shop.

The Best Western Beechworth Motor Inn in Beechworth was awarded with Most Improvements and Upgrades within a Best Western Australasia Property for 2008. They have 10 fully refurbished ground-floor units, mini bar, pool, cable television, electric blankets and the welcome mat is out for visitors.

Occupancy has dropped dramatically but Beechworth is up and running and would love to accommodate you.

The Larder is a little gem focusing on bringing the best international and regional specialty cheeses and other delicacies to Beechworth. The fromagerie will prepare cheese platters and picnic baskets of gourmet food for you to take on your day out. Business was wonderful and word was out that a visit to The Larder was a must.

That changed for owner Natasha Davis, but like the others, she will fight on and treat people with French roquefort, Rouzaire brie, truffles and buffalo mozzarella. Local products include terrines, pâtés, smoked trout and smallgoods. It's her passion and when you visit The Larder, Natasha will be there to open the door.

Lucky to narrowly avoid major damage, Stones of the Yarra Valley was hosting a wedding as fires broke out. Guests forgot the nuptials and helped quell the flames with buckets of water.

The property is one of the most beautiful and historic in the Yarra Valley, combining a restaurant, wine-tasting centre and events venue with wedding chapel nestled under century-old oak trees. Floor-to-ceiling views across 20 hectares of cabernet grapes and on to the Great Dividing Range complement the food, wines and service.

A fundraising dinner at Stones in the Valley held in March raised $40,000 for the Australian Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

Luxurious self-contained Yering Gorge Cottages with spa baths, wood stoves, balconies and gas barbecues sit in a private nature reserve on the Yarra River. People go to Yering Gorge Cottages & Nature Reserve to escape the city. The 250-hectare cattle and horse farm is for relaxing or taking part in activities.

It took on a very different role during the fires and offered emergency accommodation for people who had been evacuated from their homes and now they are offering special deals for you to visit. Until June 30, 2009 they will give you 50% off second nights for bookings between Sunday and Thursday.

Mirboo North and Walhalla, Gippsland

Gippsland is a huge rural area beginning east of the suburbs of Melbourne and stretches to the New South Wales border. Lying between the Great Dividing Range and Bass Strait it is a special area with more than 40 towns offering coastline, lakes, snowfields, rainforests and wilderness.

In Mirboo North, locals are eternally grateful to the fire-fighters who fought day and night to quell the flames.

Nestled in Mirboo North the Strzelecki Ranges, Birchwood Retreat's owner John Cakebread knows he would have lost everything had it not been for the selflessness and bravery of the firefighters and aircraft dumping water on properties once everything could be done for human and animal life.

Fires came close but the retreat remains intact and is more than ready to welcome visitors to its four self-contained cabins. Local produce can be supplied for breakfast so it's a win-win.

CFA volunteer David Tree unwittingly shot to world fame following a meeting in the bush with Sam, a burnt and thirsty koala. Tender pictures of David feeding the bandaged Sam flew around the world and prompted people to donate to the cause. Sam even has a website at www.samthekoala.com.au. As for David, now that the fires are out he is concentrating on the economic survival of his hometown.

Grand Ridge Brewery is Mirboo North's main drawcard. It's known for its range of full-malt beer which contains no added chemicals, preservatives or sugar. Pure mountain water, blended with malt, hops and yeast produce beer of excellent quality.

These days owner Erik Walters has a lot of time on his hands. They lost property and equipment but their cattle survived by taking refuge in the river. Like everyone else, Erik is keen for people to return to towns affected by the fires and get them going once again.

Outpost Retreat was established in an early 1900s farmhouse and was busily winning awards for its food when the fires hit. All of a sudden this wonderful retreat offering country escapes in comfortable cabins and excellent meals was the scene of sustenance for bushfire crews.

John and Barbara Snelling served more than 7000 meals to firefighters in less than a month. Their now-empty restaurant was for that time an oasis for tired and hungry workers and for the Snellings, a humbling experience. It is surely evidence of community spirit.

Walhalla's population of just 12, who proudly keep the town's heritage alive, were close to losing the lot on Black Saturday. A distinct line remains where the ridge was burnt but Walhalla in the valley below is totally green.

Visiting the old gold mining town is like entering a movie set for a film set in the 1900s. They run tours of old mine sites and that is exactly where tourists hid while fires swept through.

Walhalla has been threatened by fire three times and has been saved three times, so they believe they live in the Valley of the Gods.

The heart of the town, the Star Hotel was perilously close to being burned for the second time. It was destroyed in 1951 and today's replica is an exact copy.

Owner Michael Leaney, while grateful they came through unscathed, is facing tough financial times. They really need people to stay in the 12 big rooms and enjoy hearty meals in the restaurant.

Even if you can't make it to Victoria, you can bet your bottom dollar that with floods, droughts, cyclones and even oil spills, there's an operator in need near you. You can't undo their past but you can help rebuild for their future and as we've learnt tonight its hardly a compromise visiting these beautiful spots.

Location

Some of the Victorian towns devastated by the February 2009 bushfires.

Cost

Healesville Sanctuary entry is $53.90 for a family of four. All presentations are included including Birds of Prey and Parrots in Flight as well as tours of the Australian Wildlife Centre where you will need many of the animals affected by the bushfires. It is open every day between 9am and 5pm.

Virgin Blue has flights to Melbourne.

One-wayfares:

  • Adelaide $59
  • Hobart $64
  • Canberra $80
  • Sydney $95
  • Brisbane $129
  • Perth $209
  • Darwin $289
There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the Internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at April 2, 2009 and are subject to change.

Prices correct at April 2, 2009.

For further information

Virgin Blue
Ph: 136 789
www.virginblue.com.au

Stones of the Yarra Valley
14 St Huberts Road
Coldstream 3770
Ph: (03) 9739 0900
www.stonesoftheyarravalley.com

Healesville Sanctuary
Badger Creek Road
Healesville VIC 3777
Ph: (0)3 5957 2800
www.zoo.org.au/healesvillesanctuary

The Stanley
1 Wallace Street
Stanley 3747
Ph: (03) 5728 6502
www.thestanley.com.au

Beechworth Honey
Ford and Church Streets
Beechworth 3747
Ph: (03) 5728 1432
www.beechworthhoney.com.au

Best Western Beechworth
54 Sydney Road
Beechworth 3747
Ph: (03) 5728 130
www.beechworth.bestwestern.com.au

The Larder
14A Camp Street
Beechworth 3747
Ph: (03) 57282299

Yering Gorge Cottages
215 Victoria Road
Yering 3770
Ph: (03) 9739 0110
www.yeringcottages.com.au

Stones of the Yarra Valley
14 St Huberts Road
Coldstream 3770
Ph: (03) 9739 0900
www.stonesoftheyarravalley.com

Birchwood Retreat
2630 Strzelecki Highway
Mirboo North 3871
Ph: (03) 5668 1757
www.birchwoodretreat.com.au

Grand Ridge Brewery
Main Street
Mirboo North 3871
Ph: (03) 9706 2222
www.grand-ridge.com.au

Outpost Retreat
38 Loch Valley Road
Noojee 3833
Ph: (03) 5628 9669
www.theoutpostretreat.com

Star Hotel
Main Road
Walhalla 3825
Ph: (03) 5165 6262
www.starhotel.com.au

The Long Tunnel Extended Gold Mine
Mine Site
Walhalla 3825
Ph: (03) 5165 6259
www.walhallaboard.org.au

Sam the Koala
www.samthekoala.com.au

To donate to the Australian Red Cross Victoria Bushfire Appeal 2009, please visit www.redcross.org.au.

If you are thinking of taking a break, please consider going to Victoria and helping the towns Jules Lund visited, or maybe one of the many other destinations where you would be welcomed with open arms.

Check out our new celebrity Getaway blog

Check out ninemsn Travel's Insider's Guide to Sydney

User comments
Support is needed by the Asutralian tour operators to get the tourists back into these lovely destinations in Victoria. But for anyone else, just go, and show your support.
Does anyone know the name of the place that had the weimeraner(grey dog) on the property, it was a husband and wife, and the wife was a chef...i'd really like to go there but didn't get the name of the property...

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