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Bonza Organics: Strength and spirit after the fires

Perched atop the western hills surrounding Batlow, NSW, Bonza Organics are producers of certified organic apples and olives. The family-owned business is managed by Stephenie Bailey and her daughter Shaya who both live on the property, accompanied by an array of organically managed livestock including horses, sheep and goats. Stephenie purchased the property three years ago as a retirement project.

Fire damaged trees on the Bonza Organics property near Batlow, NSW.

Bonza Organics’ story is that of resilience and perseverance after the family experienced devastating loss during the January 2020 bushfires. As the fires raged through Batlow and surrounds, the family could do little to protect their property. Tragically the family lost all buildings and personal belongings and over 2,000 apple trees.

Fires in the area were almost unheard of prior to 2020. Stephenie believes that logging in the area, combined with the absence of fire hazard reduction burns, contributed to the huge scale of the fire – at the height of which, the town of Batlow was deemed ‘undefendable’.

AOL CEO Niki Ford and owner of Bonza Organics Stephenie Bailey assessing the fire damage.

After losing her home, Stephenie now lives in a small shed on the property which was built by over 20 volunteers. She says that the trauma of losing her home along with her income has changed her outlook on life, and she now appreciates the things that are most important to her. For Stephenie’s daughter Shaya, the fires have prompted her to re-evaluate life goals; she is now a probationary-retained firefighter at Batlow Fire and Rescue.

Fortunately, the animals living on the property at the time of the fires were able to be saved. Since then, the property has been restocked with a range of livestock – most of which are rescues. Horses, sheep, goats and dogs all contribute to the operation, providing natural means of pest control. The animals are free to roam on the property, with a large part of the property set aside for native bush regeneration.

Goats roaming free on the Bonza Organics property.

At Bonza Organics, severely burnt trees had to be uprooted, while the remaining were left badly damaged. Regeneration of the property has been slow and may take many years for the trees to return to full production. Unfortunately for the family, this means there isn’t currently enough produce to sell to market.

One of the many fire-damaged apple trees on the property.

Stephenie’s plans for the future include continuing to work on the regeneration of her fruit trees, with the aim to diversify the range of produce grown on the property and to become a place of excellence in providing training and experience in sustainable horticulture and living close to the earth.

Some of the animals who call Bonza Organics home.

Stephenie and Shaya’s resilience and positive outlook despite the hardship are noteworthy and reflect the strength and spirit of the Batlow community.

Photography by Louise Wright