SSAA Batemans Bay club suffers in wake of deadly bushfires

The SSAA Batemans Bay branch has been all but wiped out by one of the brutal bushfires which have devastated much of Victoria and New South Wales over the past few months. The NSW club’s home range resembled a frazzled war zone after the New Year’s Eve blaze and was strictly out of bounds while club officials considered their next move.

The family-orientated club built its own barn-style clubhouse in the mid-1990s with a kitchen as well as an indoor range for air rifle and air pistol. There were nine lanes for running target as well as automatic returns while sheds, toilets and other amenities were erected by volunteers to allow the club to cater for women and children.

“It has all been wiped out, devastated,” said club president Bryson Payne. “Everything basically just melted with the force of the blaze. That includes aluminium on windows, all the sheds and concrete pillars. And on the rifle range part of the concrete roof collapsed through the sheer heat.”

Mr Payne says little was spared as outdoor lighting, poles and transformers were burnt down, mowers, whipper-snippers and tractor tyres also added to the list of items which had to be written off. Ironically the firestorm struck just one day after members had been busy raking up and clearing debris which could have taken hold during any approaching fire threat.

“We thought everything should be all right after that, but hot north-west winds blew the fire in,” said Mr Payne. “It was an overnight thing which happened all of a sudden. Before that the fires hadn’t been spreading at night but next day the phones were going mad at six o’clock in the morning and the whole area had to be evacuated.”

And it wasn’t just the shooting range that was engulfed as about 550 houses were lost throughout the surrounding area. So where does the club go from here? Fortunately SSAA insurance was already in place so assessors will move in and offer an evaluation and once the insurance company gives the go-ahead it will be all hands on deck.

The club has a membership approaching 800 and Mr Payne reckons teamwork will turn things around. “It will take some time and hard work but I know we’ll get it done,” he said. “I’m an optimist and we have a willing work base of volunteers, including contractors. I reckon within about six weeks, if we fix the fences first, we could at least be shooting again.”

But for the clubhouse and other buildings it’s a different story. “If the clubhouse was back in operation by the end of this year I’d be more than happy,” said Mr Payne.

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