May 30, 2008
It’s a long way from the streets of Soweto to the soft light of the Victorian alps.
At this time of year, with autumn in full blush, it’s hard to imagine this is bushfire country.
While the hectic touring schedule of the Soweto Gospel Choir is a world away from the experience of Australian bushfires, the choir is renowned for its charity work, which is what this bus trip is all about – to raise funds for local firefighters.
“Even back home, community service is one of our main focus, and now, being in Australia and on tour and having to take part on this one, is a pleasure for the choir,” Thembisa Khuzwayo, of the Soweto Gospel Choir, said.
It’s been 18 months since bushfires ravaged these ranges and the little town of Mount Beauty was a wind change away from catastrophe.
Dave Bergman of the Tawonga Country Fire Authority (CFA) says it was a very hot, still day.
“The siren went off to indicate there was a fire and, I guess, it’s one of those days you don’t want a fire,” he said.
“There was a big ball of smoke coming over the ranges and basically, as we travelled down towards this way, we could see that all this area was in trouble, and this whole range became on fire.”
At the height of the blaze, the property of local tea grower Dave Harley was ringed by fire.
“We’re very lucky to be here,” Mr Harley said. “The fire came through that saddle over there. Fires don’t come down hill very quickly, usually. This just roared.”
More than 20 CFA trucks turned out to protect properties along the fire front. Music promoter David Vigo’s place was one of them.
“It was about one-and-a-half kilometres just up the road,” he said. “If the wind had changed, as they were never sure about, it could have come straight through here.”
Mr Vigo wanted to say thanks to the CFA and did so in the best way he could.
“The only thing that I know what to do is to put on concerts, and seeing we manage the Soweto Gospel Choir, how about bringing them to Mount Beauty?” he said.
Such an exotic prospect thrilled the little alpine community and it set about organising a welcome in suitable style.
“We’re so excited to be here and everybody loves us and we love everybody so,
yeah, it’s good to be here. We’re excited,” the choir’s Shimmy Jiyane said.
For the dual Grammy award-winning choir, more comfortable these days on the world’s biggest stages, tonight it’s the modest Mount Beauty Community Hall.
Locals were excited.
“It’s just great for the town to have something like this happening,” one resident said. “It’s also great for the CFA.”
For the three local brigades who share the proceeds, the recognition means a lot.
Bruce Vine, CFA regional coordinator, said: “There’s 60,000 CFA volunteers in the state and not one of them would look for any payment or anything like that. They wouldn’t look for anything other than a thank you. But this gesture is just wonderful – absolutely wonderful.”