Forrest offers help to get town rebuilt

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Liam CroyThe West Australian
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Residents intending to rebuild and stay in Yarloop raise their hands.
Camera IconResidents intending to rebuild and stay in Yarloop raise their hands. Credit: Ben Crabtree/The West Australian

The beleaguered Yarloop community reached a rousing majority vote to stay put and rebuild their fire-ravaged town at a meeting in Harvey tonight.

The meeting, chaired by Harvey Beef owner and philanthropist Andrew Forrest, was called to discuss ways for the town to move forward after the deaths of two residents.

Yarloop farmer Tony Fiorenza raised what Mr Forrest described as an “elephant in the room” when he asked other residents whether they actually wanted to rebuild.

“My boundary fence is on the township of Yarloop,” Mr Fiorenza said.

“I was there on Thursday night and I saw it go up.

“I’ve been blessed, I’ve still got my home and my working shed.

“I’m hearing a lot of mixed ideas about Yarloop and I think before we go ahead, we’ve got to find out who wants to stay.

“Well, who’s interested in making it happen? Put your hands up.”

The response was emphatic.

An overwhelming majority of the estimated 120 people in the room raised their hands in unison, much to Mr Fiorenza’s satisfaction. “If you want to make something happen, nine times out of 10 it does,” he said.

Mr Forrest said he wanted to help the town get back on its feet and assured the residents he was in it for the long haul.

“If there are approvals you’re not getting and you need them, then we’d like to lend whatever influence we can to help you get them,” he said.

“If there are small goods or items or things you need to purchase and you’re not getting the trucks or the small amount of capital it needs, there’s no issues with you asking us.”

It was not the first time the mining magnate had offered his services to a disaster-struck region. After the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, he helped rebuild Marysville where 34 people died.

“I very much remember a community like yours which was completely devastated but had a suite of champions in there who weren’t prepared to give up,” Mr Forrest said. “That town now is back to being a flourishing town.

“It’s called Marysville and it got absolutely wiped out.”

He said despite the questions, confusion and anger that residents felt, they needed to band together and focus on the future.

“I want you to dream,” he said.

“I want you to talk together as a collective voice about what might be possible, decide on it and go for it,” he said.

Many in the crowd were still furious about the events of earlier this month, when a small band of firefighters were left with the impossible task of defending the town.

Two people lost their lives and serious questions remain about what went wrong with the state’s emergency alert system.

Resident Steve Smith suggested if they were going to rebuild the town, they should rebuild the firefighters’ houses first.

The principal of Yarloop Primary School said the school was still standing and could serve as a makeshift community resource centre.

The chairman of Yarloop Workshops informed the crowd he had just overseen a unanimous vote to bring the workshops back “in some way, shape or form.”

The announcement was met with loud applause.

Their town has been largely wiped off the map, but at the packed Harvey Recreation and Cultural Centre, it was clear that the people of Yarloop were not about to give up.

Mr Forrest said maintaining that community spirit would be of the utmost importance in the coming months.

"Marysville had a lot of this and this community here has more of this then I've ever seen and that's a collegiality, a generosity of heart, a willingness and a wish to work together," he said.

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