Article by Fatima Kdouh and courtesy of The Daily Telegraph
Fighting a bushfire was the most terrifying thing Penrith Panthers captain James Tamou has ever experienced but it’s something he would do again, without hesitation, because of men like volunteer firefighter Simon Bateman.
Tamou travelled from Sydney’s west to Braidwood, which is about 60 kilometers inland from Bateman’s Bay, to help his in-laws defend their home against a bushfire in the area.
“It’s something that will stay with me for a long time. I have never been that terrified in my life. It was just… you couldn’t control it. Anything could have gone wrong at any time but we were fortunate that nothing bad did happen," he told The Saturday Telegraph.
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Despite the harrowing encounter, Tamou said the courage displayed by the people of the NSW Rural Fire Service and first responders would inspire him to do it all again.
“In a heartbeat, absolutely. I’d do it in a heartbeat because of the people I have met, like Simon, they do their work, they are tough and they are happy to do what they do. I’d be happy to do it again to back them up," Tamou said.
"It really was an ordeal. But I just drew inspiration from the people like the RFS, who are there out of their own accord. The worst of it happened over Christmas and New Years and they all have families which they left for months but they would rather be there on the front line helping.
"Their sacrifice is what has pulled this country through the devastation."
Bateman, who is the captain of the Numbugga RFS, has been a volunteer firefighter for over 30 years. The Bemboka blaze in the Bega Valley raised his farm over the Christmas period but thankfully his home was saved.
“We had the Bemboka fire then to the north we had the Badja fire, the one that went through Cobargo. To the south you had the Postman’s Trail, Big Jack Mountain and the Border fire. In the Bega Valley, it was some of the worst I have ever seen, they were as bad as you’re going to get. Everything was dry and there was so little water. I have cattle and no grass so I was feeding the cattle myself but the ground was still burnt as if there had been three inches of dead grass," Bateman said.
The NRL have relocated the ‘Battle of the West’ trial match between the Panthers and the Parramatta Eels to Bega in support of the region and its bushfire recovery efforts.
It’s a move Bateman is hoping will bring the Bega Valley’s tourism industry back to life.
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“Anyone involved in the tourism industry down here has just been smashed with cancellations and potentially people will never book again because, rightly or wrongly, they perceive it as a place they'll never go back too because of how bad the fires were. But this will drive a heap of money into the towns and hopefully encourage people to return to the Bega Valley," he said.
But for the locals, the NRL trial is some much needed respite from what was a mentally and emotionally gruelling summer.
“Even if you’re not a massive football fan or barrack for either side, it shows people elsewhere are actually interested in what’s going on and how you’re feeling. The kids are getting a massive buzz out of the whole thing, my kids are beside themselves having met some of the players," Bateman said