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What happened to Berrima in the summer 2020 bushfires?

Updated: Dec 19, 2020

It's a question many Aussie or overseas holidaymakers are asking, when planning a vacation in Australia's most iconic country town. Fortunately, the answer is that Berrima is located far enough from the fires to have escaped all but the economic impacts.

Visitors to Oldbury Cottage are usually seeking a weekend escape from Sydney or Canberra, but the media coverage of the Green Wattle Creek and Morton Fires has understandably concerned them. So in this post, we'll tell you a little about how this summer's bushfires have affected Berrima and why it's still worth coming.

Without doubt the catastrophic 2020 fire season that has consumed over 3,000 homes nationally, cost 28 lives, and led to the deaths of billions of native animals has deeply affected the psyche of our nation. It's little surprise really; this year's fires have been 46% larger than the Brazilian Amazon blazes that occurred last year, and there's probably 2 more months of fire season to go.

Local impacts

Before Christmas, when the Green Wattle Creek Fire destroyed homes in the northern Southern Highlands village of Balmoral (43 kms north of Berrima), Berrima started to experience the smoke haze that has come to mark the start of the new decade for so many Australians on the east coast. The Hume Motorway was closed for several hours on Saturday 21 December as the first images of the Balmoral's destruction started to appear on our televisions.

Soon afterwards, Berrima experienced the first of two accidentally lit local fires - one when a cigarette was thrown from a passing car and another when a truck with a broken axel pulled over beside the expressway and started a grass fire. Luckily, both fires were quickly extinguished.

Below, you can see the effects of the grassfire started by the cigarette butt at the Taylor Street roundabout, a location familiar to many Berrima tourists at the entrance to Berrima village.

By early January, after the horrors of the South Coast bushfires had flooded our screens with images of stranded holidaymakers and massive property losses, a fire in Kangaroo Valley was fanned by a strong southerly change on Saturday the 4th, and this gave Berrima its first significant test of the fire season, when The Morton Fire began.

The Southern Highlands village of Bundanoon came under attack from falling embers in the early hours of that Saturday evening, unfortunately setting several homes ablaze and necessitating an evacuation. As the evening progressed, the village of Exeter was also affected by falling embers, and several more homes were lost.

Being some 30 kilometres north of Bundanoon, Berrima experienced significant amounts of falling ash, grit and blackened leaves, but fortunately no embers. Residents kept a watchful vigil all night long, communicating regularly to monitor developments.

Rural Fire Service reconnaissance helicopters and firefighting sky cranes subsequently became a regular sight in the skies over Oldbury Cottage, as efforts were made to curb the Morton Fire and fires around the villages of Wingello and Tallong, further to the south.


A smoky sunrise makes the sun look like a ball of flames
A smoke haze infused sunrise at Oldbury Cottage Berrima

With so little rainfall in the months leading up to summer, Berrima was certainly looking much dryer than normal, however recent rainfall has restored some of the verdant green vistas that the region is justly famous for. Clear air too has fortunately returned.

Naturally, our native fauna has suffered through a lack of normal habitat and food on the ground. Wombats, which are normally nocturnal, are now regularly seen during daylight hours as they hungrily forage for green shoots. One such baby wombat has been seen wandering through the gardens of Oldbury House and Oldbury Cottage in recent weeks - and has taken up residence in a small drain pipe, much to the curiosity of our Golden Retriever.

Economic impacts

An unfortunate effect of the summer bushfires is that economic activity for the shopkeepers of Berrima has taken a sharp dive, with some 16 casual staff having been laid off throughout the village. It's a scene that is being played out in so many regional locations across southern NSW and eastern Victoria, of course with many hit much harder than Berrima as a result of direct fire impacts. As Southern Highlanders, we all extend our best wishes to the families and business owners of northern NSW, southern NSW, East Gippsland (Vic) and those in South Australia, who have seen lives, property and businesses completely devastated.

In Berrima, the shopkeepers aren't taking the downturn lying down. They banded together to remind everybody that Berrima has been fortunately been spared the direct impacts of bushfires and is 'Open for Business'.

We're open for business

So while Berrima's residents, along with all Southern Highland residents, have certainly endured a hot, dry, smokey summer, we've had recent rain and the village is once again enjoying crisp, clear air while new green shoots restore our usually lush green ambiance.

So if you're considering a romantic, private escape from Sydney or Canberra, or indeed some other place on planet Earth, please pop Oldbury Cottage on your accommodation list. Using bore water, we've been able to keep our 150 year old private oasis looking green and welcoming, and the birdlife in the garden remains as active as ever - all the the shade of our giant old oak tree.

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