Kyogle bounces back from brink

IT WAS the kind of disaster that would have wiped out many small towns, but not Kyogle.

Five years ago today, the close-knit community of 3000 lost its largest employer, Norply, in a devastating inferno that burnt for days on end.

The fire destroyed the plywood factory that not only employed more than 140 people, but was one of the biggest spenders in town.

About 35 workers battled bravely to save the building with hoses and fire extinguishers, but it spread too quickly and eventually they had to flee for their lives.

Miraculously, no one was killed, but the township still feels the effects to this day.

The fire remains etched in the memory of then mayor, Ernie Bennett, who was stranded at home without a car on the night.

“It was like my world was being pulled out from under me and I couldn't get there – not that I could've helped – but I just felt so terrible not being there,” he said.

“Straight away you knew it was going to hurt, you knew it was going to have a huge impact on our community – this was the biggest employer we had. Norply employed 140 people directly and there was in excess of that employed indirectly.

“A lot of people had to leave town to find work and that sort of loss could not be taken up by other companies, but everyone rallied.

“Most shops had to put people off because less was being spent around town, but all of them put on more staff as soon they could – half a job here, half a job there.

“Knowing your community was hurting was devastating. When you put your hand up for one of these jobs it can be very emotional – it hurts like it is happening to you.”

Lesley Carbery was born and bred in Kyogle and will never forget that fateful day.

“It was devastating seeing that fire from our house,” she said. “My uncles, my father and my partner worked there and they all lost their jobs.

“My partner and I had just had a brand new baby.

“They all had to go and find work elsewhere – in Urbenville and Lismore and Casino – but we survived, we're still here.”

Acting president of the Kyogle Chamber of Commerce, Joanne Moore, now runs her family's shoe store in the main street with her sister, Meghan Hogan.

They lost considerable business themselves, and while she believes the effects are still ongoing, she is proud of how her community coped.

“The Kyogle spirit is amazing,” she said. “That fire would've gutted most towns.

“We see it all the time – Kyogle really does look after its own. People did whatever they could to help. Whatever was needed, they were there.

“But a lot of families still had to move and many have never come back. Some really tried to stay, but it just got too hard for them.”

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