Yuletide cheer for fire victims

Corrina RidgwayThe West Australian

About 300 people from fire-affected regions received an early Christmas present at a community Christmas party at Grass Patch last week, co-ordinated by WAFarmers.

Donations to the event came from the agricultural industry across the State. The event welcomed members of the Scaddan, Salmon Gums, Grass Patch, Merivale and Cascades communities.

WAFarmers chief executive Stephen Brown said the idea for a hassle-free Christmas party was to allow farming community members the chance to unwind, catch up, chat and have a good feed after a tumultuous 2015 harvest.

"The idea was to approach everyone I had contacts for in the agricultural industry to create a walk-in, walk-out Christmas party," he said.

"None of the producers have needed to do anything except come along and leave as they wish."

WAFarmers sought donations from 70 companies and co-ordinated an industry-wide effort to bring Christmas cheer.

So great was the generosity that everything used on the night was donated or paid for by significant cash donations.

Huge bouncy castles, a visit from Santa and a plethora of activities including face painting kept toddlers to teens busy and allowed parents a well-deserved chance to catch up with friends from far and wide.

The 100 children present made sure the festive spirit was alive and well and enjoyed themselves.

The event was well supported by myriad community groups which contributed their time and services.

Producers Faye Sanderson and Natalie Bowman assisted WAFarmers with their local contacts.

Local WAFarmers representatives Marg Agnew, Mick Fels and Tywen Coles were instrumental with on-ground co-ordination of the event and Blaze Aid volunteers happily pitched in to create a memorable occasion.

The chance to put aside the past few months and relax was welcomed by many local producers, including Grass Patch farmer Dan Sanderson, who lost 400ha of crop, 500ha of stubble and 10km of fencing in the blaze.

Strong winds reduced yields on the remaining 1600ha of crop by 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes per hectare.

The Sandersons finally finished on December 16, with further inclement weather reducing wheat to a grade of general purpose.

"It's been a trying year, so it's really good to come along and experience this, giving people the chance to relax and talk," Mr Sanderson said.

"And it's so nice to see the kids and the grand kids just having some fun. The support received from within the community and from volunteer organisations has been absolutely unbelievable," he said.

Some producers were still harvesting but most expected to finish before Christmas, he said. Everyone, including himself, was glad to see it come to its close.

Inaya Stone, 16, was home on her family's Scaddan farm on the Wednesday of the fires and assisted with fire efforts, including watching fires alongside her father.

"Thursday and Friday we were feeding firies all day. Friday I also helped the boys who were harvesting move some gear, then on Saturday I went with dad to keep an eye on all the fires," she said.

Inaya leapt straight from fire efforts to a stint driving a chaser bin for almost four weeks, finishing on December 18.

"It's been really good for the communities to get together and have something to celebrate," she said.

"It's so nice to be able to see your mates and not have to worry about your farm and everything that's going on.

"The generosity for the Christmas party and the last few weeks have been amazing. I can't believe how many donations have been made in such a short time."

Esperance Shire president Victoria Brown echoed Inaya's thoughts.

"A huge thankyou to WAFarmers. It has been the most amazing afternoon and evening," she said.

"The community really needed this, from the little grandies to the grandparents."

"The visit from Father Christmas really reminded us that Christmas is all about giving - and people have been so very generous with their giving."

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