Now, with Patrick’s blond-haired two-year-old son, Harley, sitting with him on his quad bike, he was back on the farm fencing, trying to keep his emotions in check and slowly, painstakingly, attempting keep the family together and preserve what little was left.
“We’re all feeling numb, to be honest,” he said.
“We’re hurting bad. And we’ve cried. But we’ve got to keep going.”
He looked down at his young nephew immediately, who sat contentedly, waving the flies from his face.
There was an unspoken, awful emotional burden to be lifted here and Aaron Salway was stepping up, ready to do the heavy lifting.
He now had not one, but three farms to run. His grief would have to wait.
Like many farmers in the once-lush Bega Valley, for decades a rich source of the dairy products put on the tables of tens of thousands of people all over NSW and the ACT, Aaron Salway is back at work.
Behind him, in the base of the valley, is a ribbon of green grass he’s now fencing to serve as future feed for his cattle.
“People here, neighbours and friends, have been wonderful. They’ve all just pitched in to help. There’s been a lot of kindness and support,” he said.
Further up the hill, the grass is razed to bare earth by the fireballs that rolled out of the mountains to the west and bounced “like fire bombs” around the hillsides.
The Salways, three boys and three girls, are fifth-generation farmers in the valley.
They are closely knitted into the fabric of this small community, and known by all. The Cobargo agricultural show, now cancelled, was happening next month and everyone was getting ready for the big day. The show chooks, the horses, the cattle; they were all being prepped for Cobargo’s biggest social event on the calendar. Now the entire town is in shock.
“Dad always said that with bush, you need to burn it before it burns you. And he was right. It got him.”
He said his grandfather used to run cattle in the bush of the mountains behind Wandella and in doing so, they would fell and clear the bush to keep the fire risk down.
But as restrictions were imposed, they stuck to their farms and would look up to the high ridgelines above them where the uncontrolled bush grew thick and deep. Every year that passed, the risk and the forest fuel increased.
And when it came, it came without warning.
Patrick and Robert Salway died trying to protect their home but the intensity of the fire was simply too much. No one quite knows what happened but they were overwhelmed, some 60 metres downhill from their home, perhaps in a last-ditch effort to flee.
“They were in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr Salway said. “I think they, like a lot of people around here, thought could fight it.
“But this was no ordinary bushfire. This was something else again, something unbelievable.”
He described the New Year’s Eve attack as like a warzone, where a series of firebombs bounced and boomed across the countryside, exploding and shattering trees and sucking the oxygen out of the air.
“There were a mob of cattle which ran up the ridge just over there,” he said, pointing across the valley.
“They just all keeled over and died, starved of oxygen.”
With 90 per cent of his fencing gone, every day of the past week has been long and busy just trying to set posts and strainers and string barbed wire to protect his stock from wandering onto the road.
“We have just got to keep strong and do our best,” he said.
Source: Bega District News