Published on January 24th, 2020 | by Boris0
2019 WALCHA FIRE RUN – SOME PEOPLE DID SOMETHING
When Australia caught fire in late 2019, fear wormed its way into my guts. I had moved out of Sydney the previous year and was now living happily in the Hunter Valley with my wife. And country living makes you happier than you ever thought possible, until shit catches fire – in which case you spend a lot of time being…well, watchful, I guess.
You also spend a lot of time refreshing the NSW RFS app to see how close the fires are to you.
And you spend a lot of time with fear squirming around in your guts.
Do I stay and fight the blaze if it comes?
Or do I toss my wife, my dog, my laptop, and some essentials in the ute and head for some non-flammable part of the country?
When is the right time to make that choice? What is the right choice to make? How many guns should I take?
During this unsettling time, I watched what was happening up near Walcha. It was surrounded by fires and a bunch of houses had already been lost in an outlying village called Yarrowitch.
In case you didn’t know, Walcha sits astride the Oxley Highway. And the Oxley Highway is a road deserving of legend status among motorcycle riders. If you’ve not ridden it, then your life is incomplete.
Walcha is also home to my brother, Andy Wright – the proprietor of the Walcha Motel and a man of honour I am pleased and proud to know.
I rang him.
“You OK?” I asked.
“It’s a bit smoky”, he laughed. “But yeah, we’re good so far.”
“They sure are. We haven’t had a booking in weeks. The Oxley’s been closed since the MotoGP weekend,” Andy sighed.
“Yeah, they closed it minutes after we went through. In fact, Mike didn’t make it and had to back-track to Tamworth to get to Port Macquarie the next day.”
“The café, the pubs, and even Ginger’s Creek haven’t had customers in weeks.”
“Look after yourself,” I said, my heart heavy with helplessness, and hung up.
The next day I sent him an Email.
The Email said if he picked a weekend in the very near future, I would use my social media profile and my BikeMe! website and book out his entire hotel. I felt I knew enough people for this to happen, and I also felt the town could do with my mates spending shitloads of cash trying to drink the place dry. It’s not like we have not made the attempt in the past.
Except now there was a cause.
So Andy picked a date and I put it up on my Facebook page.
And then one thing led to another. And that thing led to another thing. And then another thing.
And suddenly, my idea for helping Andy out had morphed into a fund-raising campaign to help the people who had lost their homes in the area.
I blame Andy entirely for this. He is a most righteous man. And it was his idea to hold “maybe a raffle or ask for donations” to help the poor souls who had lost everything. He was also the organiser of the bank account, and liaised with the mayor of Walcha to see where the money could best be allocated.
I just yelled at people, which is what I do best.
We figured we would, if we were lucky, raise maybe two or three grand.
We raised almost $23,000.
And we did it in two weeks.
It seemed our idea to help struck a chord with the many good, kind, and generous people on my timeline, who, like me, felt a driving need to “do something” to help those being incinerated by bushfires.
Both of us knew there would be other fund-raisers and charities would gear up to assist people affected by the fires – even though neither of us at that time had any idea how bad the bush fires would actually get.
This was, after all, just the end of November and start of December. However, the difference between whatever fundraisers were to come and what Andy and I were doing, was we intended all the monies raised to go to the people who needed it. And, if there were other donations, like giftcards, then they would go directly to the local RFS – rather than get deposited into the State government’s coffers.
Now don’t tell me you didn’t know the RFS is funded by the NSW state government. It could certainly be funded better, but it is funded. So any money donated to the RFS goes directly into the state’s coffers.
Us handing donations directly to the local RFS captain to spend as he saw fit among his crew was a much better option.
Governments – both state and federal – do a hugely shit job with what money we give them anyway. Andy and I saw no reason why we should give them any more.
We also decided we would take no bullshit admin fees. We were entitled to take 30 per cent. Just like all those other wonderful charities so many of you support with your hard-earned – and whose figureheads and administrators earn a great living from. Because, you know, they’ll tell you running charities costs money.
Fuck that. And fuck them. And fuck their charities.
I started calling people I know.
I called Dave Cooke, who runs the National Motorcycle Alliance and is also the CEO of Motorcycling NSW.
“How much to insure this shit-show?” I asked. “I don’t want to lose my house if some muppet eats a truck on the ride.”
“It will cost you nothing, mate,” Dave said. “Consider the premium our donation.”
I then created a Facebook page and we started getting all sorts of wonderful things to auction off on that page. And the money just kept pouring in. From all over Australia, New Zealand and even the USA.
In Victoria, Katie Knight, organised a truck full of donated goods and a girlfriend, and told us she was going to drive the whole lot up from Melbourne. Her boss had given her a fuel card and the truck.
Simon Leplaw, the marketing manager of Ducati Australia put his hand up and said he’d get the amazing photo of Troy Bayliss astride his Ducati, taken and donated by photographer Karlos Neale, signed by Troy himself.
Handmade guitars, handmade tables, collectible posters, amazing sticker collections, were all donated by good-hearted people whose names and businesses can all be found on the Walcha Fire Run Facebook page (HERE). Sizeable donations of some very cool prizes came from within the industry as well, with Justine Chisholm of Trooper Lu’s Yamaha and Grant Sammut from Ron Angel (importers of Nolan and XLite lids, and Motul oil) all dug very deeply indeed.
One bloke did ply me with a line of bullshit and an auctionable item which never appeared – and that is an issue I will be pursuing. So I feel he should make that good before I publicly expose him for being a twat.
But that was the only hiccup.
Everything else went fabulously well, and on the Friday of the run up to Walcha, a very eclectic group of riders assembled at the meet point.
There was a bona fide one percenter, a small group representing the Vanguard Motorcycle Club Inc (who have always supported stuff BikeMe! and I have done, like the Warm The Homeless thing we did last year when AMCN decided it couldn’t be bothered continuing with the winter Jacket Drive for homeless people, but was ultimately shamed into picking that ball up again), as well as a another ten or so riders prepared to hammer their way up Thunderbolts Way to Walcha and spend some money.
We picked up a stray or two along the way, and more people arrived on their own over the next day or so.
We had filled Andy’s motel, and then we decided to go for a drink at the Walcha café, which just so happened to be empty and flogging cans of craft beer at five bucks a pop.
The first four of us who got there immediately bought $200 worth, and ten minutes later, when more Fire Run people arrived, we bought another $200 worth. And then we had dinner and bought more beer.
The run up had been…erm, brisk, for me. You hang onto an Indian FTR 1200 at 200-and-something chasing bastards on Multistradas, ZX1400s, and GSs and tell me it’s not an eye-opener.
After we had exhausted the possibilities of the Walcha café, we went drinking at the New England Hotel, and when that ran its course, we moved to the Apsley Arms – which is thankfully under the control of a new publican, and thus once again fit for patronage.
And then, when last drinks were called, we adjourned back to the Walcha Motel and continued howling and laughing.
I recall loud screams and demands for “Gak! Gak now!”
I recall the Macedonian on the Multistrada I had been chasing had lost his father somewhere much earlier on in the day, but was now too drunk to go looking for him.
I recall great goodwill and laughter and shit-stirring – which was quite amazing given that most of the people had never met before, but seemed to be bonded by this altruistic thing we had all come together to do.
The next morning we all rode to Yarrowitch and handed the local RFS captain a thousand bucks in Bunnings and Officeworks giftcards.
He and his small crew had been on the fireground non-stop for the last three weeks. The exhaustion in their faces was outgunned by the determination in their eyes. They had lost houses, and the fires were still burning, and would burn for a long time yet, but their great good humour was intact.
Yeah, these were heroes. I was only disappointed we couldn’t give them more.
We then rode to where the Oxley Highway had been closed and were advised by a canny local manning the roadblock that the road back to Walcha was pretty much…erm, unattended.
We had figured that, but it was nice to get some local confirmation.
The ride back was another level of “spirited” altogether.
We then adjourned to the Commercial Hotel for lunch and another hilarious afternoon of drinking the Walcha economy back into some kind of working order.
And we did our best.
Oh yeah, there was some local media and a local council member who came to meet us for a photo-op. This was followed by a blood-curdling auction of stickers, donated by Mark Bracks.
My brother, Gary, had declared the stickers were to be his even if he had to sell organs.
He’d run up against my brother, Ross, who is a man of some means, and while he had no particular desire for the stickers, was happy to drag the bids into the stratosphere.
I pulled the pin before it got crazy and Gary killed him.
Much to my amazement, I was then given a gift.
Brother Jaf, a long-time BikeMe! member had handcrafted me an axe. He had engraved it and it was presented to me for reasons I still don’t quite understand, but the gesture touched me very deeply. I felt it was really Andy who should have been given the axe – seeing as how he did most of the grunt work and all I did was yell at people. But thank you, Jaf. It is something I will treasure forever.
So the wash-up went like this:
The mayor gave us a list of twelve people (including the Gingers Creek owners) who had lost their homes.
We divided the money equally and created bank cheques in each of their names. The local Commonwealth Bank waived the fees and agreed to hold the cheques for when they could be collected.
Our original plan was to hand the people the actual cash.
But because we were making it up as we went along, we only realised at the last minute that people who have lost their homes would not be living in the ashes. They had all left and gone to live elsewhere while they rebuilt their lives.
The bank cheque thing was the best we could do.
Oh, and we kept $300 aside for postage when we sent out the items people had bid on.
And that was that.
I contacted the people who had a bank cheque waiting for them and was quite overwhelmed by their gratitude. It wasn’t a lot of money we were handing over, but as one lady said: “When you have lost everything, this helps so much I just can’t tell you.”
And then she cried. And she wasn’t the only one.
To the people who came along and donated and bid – thank you. You actually did something. Something important and something good. And you did it wanting nothing in return.
I thank you also for trusting Andy and I to act honourably and openly in this whole deal. Some of you I know personally, and you know me, and have for many years – so you know who and what I am. But many of you I only know as names on my Facebook page. And you don’t know me at all, apart from reading what I write. You made a leap of faith putting your trust in me and in Andy. We could never have let you down.
PS. If you wish to see how this all developed and who donated what and who bid for what, then I encourage you to go to the Walcha Fire Run page on Facebook.
THE KILLER IMAGES COURTESY OF THE GOOD BLOKES FROM VANGUARD MC INC (The shitty ones were mine).