As we stood at Merimbula's Rotary Park, in the distance the ever-present smoke rolled in and not so far away the helicopter engines reminded us that Sunday, January 26 was no day of rest, no Aussie celebration for those men and women who worked so hard to keep us safe.
Their work, and the work of everyone involved in the community to keep us safe and informed was acknowledged by many speakers during the morning.
There was recognition for the work of Bega Valley Shire mayor Kristy McBain in keeping the community informed and being a communication liaison point for the community with the award of the Merimbula Rotary Community Service Award.
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Rotary president Andy Thorp said Cr McBain was recognised for keeping us well informed and safe as possible throughout.
"Someone I'm sure we're all happy to have take us out of this crisis and lead us through our recovery," Mr Thorp said.
He went on to say there was a special award to a group of "true heroes risking their lives to do all they can to protect ours, the Far South Coast Rural Fire Service".
The news was greeted with cheers and applause. The award was collected for the RFS by James Hambleton, a volunteer RFS member at Merimbula.
My neighbours, like many RFS members are farmers who spend every day fighting the financial and emotional ravages of the crippling drought yet still, when called upon, left farms, home, families to protect the properties and lives of others.Amy Wels
Mr Hambleton runs Za's Coffee van, and has collected over $3000 from the sale of coffee to go towards bushfire relief.
Merimbula Australia Day Ambassador Christine Kaine said that everyone needed to take care of themselves.
"The events of the last few weeks have changed us. Some of us have a firsthand experience of that; others have shared the experience through friendships and relationships.
"We will never be the same again. We have years of recovery ahead," Ms Kaine said.
But she said it brought with it an opportunity to build many new things and build back better.
"To rebuild in resilient ways; not just replacing what we had, but looking at different ways."
She said it was time to build a stronger, more connected community that was connected, communicated and contributed.
I now understand how the generosity to volunteer even in the light of the accompanying cost is a cornerstone of what it is to be Australian.Youth speaker Amy Wels
The personal effects of the fire was evident in youth speaker Amy Wels address.
The Lumen Christi student spoke from the heart saying that the fires had changed her perspective and given an opportunity for a very personal reflection.
"The natural forces of this land are so much greater than we. It's time for us to acknowledge that we must learn to live within this land to work with it to achnowledge its greatness and protect its fragility," Amy said.
"Climate change has become not a debate but a shocking reality, Perhaps it is time to call upon the wisdom of our Indigenous people.
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"The dangers of fighting bushfires have been brought into sharp focus. Each tragedy has become quite personal. For a small community we know our volunteers by name for they are our neighbours. I now understand how the generosity to volunteer even in the light of the accompanying cost is a cornerstone of what it is to be Australian," Amy said.
She said her neighbours, like many RFS members were farmers who were spending every day fighting the financial and emotional ravages of the crippling drought yet still, when called upon, they left farms, home, families to protect properties and lives of others.
It was about believing strength is in community rather than personal advancement, Amy said.
"I am grateful to live in this place at this time. I have an appreciation of what it means to be an Australian.
I don't know where we would be if we didn't have each other.Deputy mayor Sharon Tapscott.
"I am optimistic for a better future where Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures are entwinned and mutually enriched, and where sustainability and climate change are embraced and not side-stepped and where volunteers are not taken advantage of by governments.
"The answers are all around us, hopefully we do not need another disaster to act upon them," Amy said in conclusion.
The day was made extra special for seven people, Kelli Rieck, Peter Bache, Shannon Clark, Tracy Cope, Yvonne Jackman, Graham Williamson and John Wilson as they all became Australian citizens in a ceremony conducted by deputy mayor Sharon Tapscott.
"I don't know where we would be if we didn't have each other," Cr Tapscott said, mentioning "the beautiful saviours overhead" as a helicopter passed over.
In addition during the ceremony there was poetry from John Fraser, music from the Sapphire Coast Concert Band, the flag was raised and lamingtons were served and meanwhile Rotary kept cooking sausages for hungry arrivals.
There was much of the day that was about being an Australian but in the words of speakers, and the hearts and minds of those present, there was even more about what it is to be a member of this community.