Mining magnate and philanthropist Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest and his Minderoo Foundation crew dropped into Steinbrook Hall on Friday afternoon to get first-hand accounts of what help the Tenterfield community needs to recover from its series of bushfires.
The visit came hot on the heels of Mr Forrest's announcement the previous day of a $70 million donation through the Foundation towards relief efforts, and to build the nation's long-term resilience to bushfires.
Of this, $10 million will be used for immediate bushfire relief and $10 million will go towards mobilising about 1250 specialist volunteers from tradies to health professionals from Western Australia.
The remaining $50 million will go towards a $500 million project gathering experts to develop a "globally relevant national blueprint" for fire and disaster resilience, including new approaches to mitigate bushfires.
Mr Forrest said he chose Tenterfield to be among the first places to come to as it has been most terribly affected by bushfire. He was keen to engage with the community and get its feedback on the causes of the fires and the best way to defend against them.
"We want to make sure this doesn't happen again." he said.
After shaking the hand of each of those gathered, including property owners, firefighters, community workers and council representatives, Mr Forrest and his team listened intently to bushfire experiences and opinions on how the fires could be better managed. One of those present, Ray Pitkin, said it was the first time someone of influence had just listened to what community members had to say.
"I've just learned so much," Mr Forrest said.
Regarding short- to medium-term assistance he said the Foundation, established by him and wife Nicola, has a history of being in for the long haul. The organisation stayed in affected communities for two years following the infamous 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria and is ready for a similar commitment here.
"We'll be in and out of the community to see what help we can bring," Mr Forrest said.
"If you can't get it from somewhere else, we'll step up for you."
The specifics will be determined through consultation, starting with a meeting on Monday between the recovery team's Chris Milne and Mayor Peter Petty and Deputy Mayor Greg Sauer.
Longer term, Mr Forrest seeks to develop a blueprint that may well include answers to questions that haven't yet been thought of. He said the blueprint for change to stop more of 'these hideous fires' would require a structural shift, particularly in the case of authorities.
He did say to enthusiastic applause that it's glaringly obvious to him that it's vital to get local people managing these situations. This philosophy, however, would have to be backed up by independent science and investigation.
Before heading off to their next stop in Woolongong, the visitors expressed their appreciation for the hospitality shown by the Steinbrook Progress Association. They'd last eaten at 6.30am and were fairly 'tonguing for a cup of tea' , according to Mr Forrest, by the time they arrived to the great spread at Steinbrook Hall after 3pm.
The team expects to return to home base in Western Australia by Sunday night. They travelled through Armidale (catching up with representatives of the BackTrack youth program there) and checked out the devastation at Whytaliba before flying into Tenterfield by private helicopter.
Use this to bind your community together and plan for what could be, and if we can help you along that journey in any way, it would be our privilege.Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest
In his farewell, Mr Forrest advised people to look beyond simply rebuilding, and instead consider the losses a springboard to better facilities.
"When you've been through one helluva tragedy -- this is heartfelt and can be hurtful -- but if you try to just put back what you had you'll probably only build a very shallow memory of what was there, what was real," he said.
"When you recover from these huge, huge tragedies, think for what might be, of how great you could make this whole beautiful Tenterfield community, and then plan for that.
"Use this to bind your community together and plan for what could be, and if we can help you along that journey in any way, it would be our privilege."