Open for Business: How the town of Cobargo recovered from the flames

Tim Salway is still picking up the pieces after the devastating fires that ripped through his home town of Cobargo in the summer of 2020.

A fifth generation farmer, there was little the out-of-control inferno didn’t take from his family, in a horror event that none of the 800 residents living in the quaint town on the NSW Sapphire Coast, will ever forget.

Nothing could have prepared him for what happened on December 30, 2019.

“The biggest impact was that I lost my father and brother (in the fire) … That was the worst thing ever,” Tim said.

“I won’t lie … I have probably struggled a bit.”

The main street of Cobargo was destroyed during the 2019/2020 bushfires. Picture: Toby ZernaSource:News Corp Australia

The burnt-out remains of one of the almost 400 homes destroyed in the Cobargo bushfire. Picture: James Gourley/AAPSource:AAP

Desperately trying to save the family property on the outskirts of town, Tim’s younger brother Patrick, 29, and father Robert, 63, lost their lives in the out-of-control blaze that ripped through hundreds of properties.

Tim Salway lost his father and brother in the bushfires that ripped through Cobargo. Picture: Alkis Konstantinidis/ReutersSource:Reuters

Cobargo, a town most of Australia had never heard of, quickly became the symbol of one of Australia’s deadliest bushfire seasons on record.

Cows, some singed by the fire, at Tim Salway’s dairy farm near Cobargo. Tim’s father and brother were killed trying to defend the property. Picture: SGT Max Bree/ADFSource:Supplied

In an interview for a new video series supporting bushfire affected communities, Open for Business , Tim said the day the fire took over the town will take a lifetime to recover from.

“We have been to hell and back I suppose,” he said.

“But we are farmers … you’ve got to keep going … try and keep smiling that’s all you can do, day by day.”

Dairy farmer Tim Salway and his wife Leanne are picking up the pieces after the bushfire ripped through their property. Picture: SGT Max Bree/ADFSource:Supplied

Mr Salway’s story of resilience and rebuilding has been echoed throughout the Cobargo community, where close to 370 homes were lost and a further 98 damaged.

Overall across Australia between September 29, 2019 and March 31, 2020, nine firefighters lost their lives and a total of 33 people died during one of the country’s most devastating bushfire seasons in history.

Patrick, 29, and his 63-year-old father Robert Salway were killed trying to save their home and farming equipment from the raging Badja Forest blaze near Cobargo.Source:Supplied

Cobargo Hotel owner David Allen, who watched the historic main street burn in front of his eyes, said nothing will erase the memories of New Year’s Eve 2019.

“The fire came through here about 4am … and it was a pretty big 30 hours trying to save as much as we could,” he said.

“It was hard … trying to defend this place and watching the town burn … it was very, very tough.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a surprise visit to Cobargo in NSW on Thursday, January 2, 2020. Picture: Sean DaveySource:News Corp Australia

Mr Allen said that no other community could band together like Cobargo, and now – a year on – the region is rebuilding and ready for Australians to return.

“Cobargo is a great place to visit … you can park in the main street and just wander up and down and have a look at all the different shops or get a meal,” he said.

Clearing of the shops burnt down in the main street of Cobargo as the town begins to rebuild. Picture: Toby ZernaSource:News Corp Australia

Cobargo is on the road to recovery after some of the worst bushfires in Australian history ripped through the town.Source:Supplied

“There’s so much to offer and so much to see … and support and give to those areas that lost last summer basically their tourist income. It will really help turn things around and get people back on their feet.”

Locals are calling on Australians to visit the region for their next holiday. Picture: David Rogers PhotographySource:Supplied

Locals are ready and waiting for Australians to visit Cobargo. Picture: David Rogers PhotographySource:Supplied

Minister for Tourism, Trade and Investment Dan Tehan said now more than ever, bushfire impacted communities need our support.

“A year on from the Black summer fires, the best way we can help these communities is by visiting them,” Mr Tehan told

“Stay a few nights … visit the destinations that surround these communities and support the ones that have been so heavily impacted.”

The township of Cobargo is rebuilding following the devastating bushfire season. Picture: David Rogers PhotographySource:Supplied

The town is full of local delights, so bring an Esky. Picture: David Rogers PhotographySource:Supplied

Mr Tehan said that one of the biggest single impacts on tourism from the COVID-19 pandemic stopping Australians from visiting the regions has been the on-again, off-again border closures.

“Every time there’s a border closure, it’s impacted the tourism sector and especially those sectors trying to recover from the bushfires,” he said.

“That’s why we need to go to those communities … they are open for business. I have no doubt you will be warmly welcomed … and you won’t get a warmer welcome anywhere in the world.”

For the next 14 weeks, in partnership with Tourism Australia and the National Bushfire Recovery Agency will showcase bushfire impacted regions that need our support. For the full video series, check out Open for Business

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