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Light Up The Bay 2020 lit up the faces of all who attended

Congratulations to the many volunteers and organisers behind the scenes for bring the Batemans Bay community a New Years Eve party under the most restrictive of circumstances. Batemans Bay families, visitors and community leaders including Fiona Phillips MP Member for Gilmore, Shane Fitzsimmons, Resilience NSW Commissioner gathered on the foreshore of Batemans Bay last night to safely and solemnly welcome in a new year with 'Light Up The Bay 2020' hosted by the Batemans Bay Business and Tourism Chamber, - a reflection as a community on the events on December 31, 2019, as it marked the first anniversary of the onset of catastrophic bushfires on the town.

Aunty Loretta, an indigenous elder of the local Yuin people opened the official welcome commenting, we 'need to light up the bay not only with lights but with our smiles, that we've had a rough year and we need to celebrate that we have survived'.

Fiona Phillips MP looked back on the countless personal stories of a communities' generosity with one another, one family taking in another family of 12 people for the night, the next morning giving them the 'best breakfast they'd ever had', and Phillips thanked the many volunteer groups across the Eurobodalla Shire who offer practical help around the clock at that time.

A face synonymous with the bushfire relief effort, Shane Fitzsimmons, Resilience NSW Commissioner and the then-Commissioner of the Rural Fire Surface, retold his own personal experience of the massive scale of the RFS rescue operation, commenting it was the largest use of heavy machinery and aircraft in the service's history in Australia. Having walked the last year following the fires, he encouraged the community, to be open to talking up about needing help and support through this process.

The event brought the community many touching moments - including fitting tribute to young Emerald Smith and her mother Josie, who lost their father and husband John Smith on 31 December 2019, with a tree along the foreshore lit emerald green in honour of John, who lost his life protecting the property their family loved.

Batemans Bay RFS Captain Ian Aitken and his team were thanked for their incredible efforts, and in turn, thanked the many crews who came from across NSW in their aid last year. The event concluded with a guard of honour for 5 local RFS trucks along the Clyde St Foreshore, looked on by all dignitaries and local families including Emerald and Josie.

Mc'ing the event was Mathew Hatcher, as President of the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Mathew is well known and respected across the South East; acknowledged as 2020 Eurobodalla Local Hero and widely recognised as one of the key driving co-organisers behind the incredibly successful and vital SoCoDoLo initiative that brought in and distributed donated goods into the region following the fires. One local commentator said of Mathew last night "His face and presence have become the recurring mainstay behind these civic events. He is devoid of politics and steps up to get things done. If he runs for Mayor he will win hands down. He is genuine and actually listens to people." Mathew posted the following on his social media page today (January 1st 2021) that encapsulates the year that was for him but also the year that was for many in the community. Mathew writes "Well 2020 I can honestly say I gave you my all. It’s been the craziest year ever. Starting the year with the bushfires that ravaged our region, starting SoCoDoLo, Guerrilla Roasters going viral the same day, shooting global Visa ads, to flood relief and pivoting to doing all that through a global pandemic it truly has been different!

"Last night was the culmination of everything with the one year anniversary of that horrific day. Incredibly emotional and heart warming at the same time to see the community and our visitors come together to remember and take the step into 2021 together. I was lucky enough to be named Local Hero this year but last night I got to meet the true hero of NSW, Shane Fitzsimmons. I feel so honoured to close the year off getting to sit and have dinner with Shane and Lisa and unpack what 2020 was for me.

"We then walked down to the foreshore and I was lucky enough to MC the most incredible event. Not many will ever know how hard it is to pull off what we did last night in the current climate. Countless sleepless nights and working around the clock with so many to get approvals needed to pull it off. I’m incredible thankful to all the volunteers and sponsors that helped and how amazingly covid safe everyone was on the night. Truly inspiring after all we have been through this year. A massive thanks to Loretta Parsley, Fiona Phillips MP, Ian Aitken and Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons for marking this special day.

"When the night finally was over I made it about 500 metres from site before I had to stop of pure exhaustion and sleep. I can truly say I poured all my heart and energy into 2020 to do my part and left it all on the field. But I really want to say thanks to all those people who are around me 24/7 keeping me on track and doing all they do to make sure I keep going. "They are often forgotten when I get the praise but without them this would never have happened. From messages of support sent internationally, to the media who continue to cover it, to those that visit our region for a day, a week or sometimes the year to do what they can to help those in our region recover. To all the corporate donors and private donors who have helped to fund what we did down to the small donation of hand knitted mask, you all played your role in making a difference to so many. I truly could never thank you all enough and I don’t want to leave anyone out but if you are reading this, you most likely played a part in helping someone in 2020.

"I wish you all the best in 2021. Stay safe, be kind and check on your neighbour."

Above: L to R : Fiona Phillips MP, Ian Aitken, Mathew Hatcher, Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and Loretta Parsley.

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