After being devastated by fire on New Years Eve and again a few days later, pioneering hazelnut growers at Batlow, NSW, have vowed to rebuild their growing business.

Story + Photos Don Fuchs 

The fire swept in from the south-west quickly and mercilessly. It was 3pm on New Years Eve, but there would be no celebration this night. Having spent almost two decades setting up their pioneering Happy Wombat Hazelnuts orchard at Batlow, NSW, Craig Anderson and Bindi Vanzella decided to stay and defend their property. The flames roared through a pine plantation and jumped the road. “The intensity and speed of the flames was incredible,” Craig says. “From the first flames to the entire road frontage being alight was seconds, with associated spot fires breaking out in the orchards.”

Valiantly sticking to their fire plan, Craig and Bindi managed to prevent the fire taking out sheds or consuming the orchards. But 50% of the 20ha property burnt, and they lost 10% of the 2000 hazelnut trees, as well as more than 50% of the crop, which was destroyed by the heat and strong winds. “Our best year ever turned to our worst in a couple of hours,” Craig says.

Over the next few days the Batlow fire would go on to destroy 17 houses in town and the hospital, and then it turned around and had another go at Craig and Bindi from the north. “Thankfully the remnant bush on our north survived,” Craig says. “We now have this strange view where the southern half of the farm is blackened and the northern half green.” 

Although understandably “crushed” by what has happened, Craig and Bindi have vowed to rebuild and keep going. “We chose to try to make a living from farming,” Craig says. “We chose the land that we now farm, the crops we grow and the farming methods we use. When the fire came, we chose to stay and fight. And the decision to rebuild and try again is again our choice. The next year and beyond will be very difficult financially, but that’s just the way it is.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #129

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2020