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Edition 241 – Fire

It’s early last Friday morning. The ABC radio news is on in the background as I’m getting ready for the day. I’m half listening as I’m thinking through my tasks for the day when the newsreader mentions a “fire in Camden”. My wife, hears the same thing and when the reference is to a building on fire with an upstairs restaurant, we both call out to each other – “Fred’s”.

The check of Facebook proves the worst. One of Camden’s historic buildings is severely damaged by an early morning fire that took 40 firefighters to bring under control. It’s the second major building fire in Camden in two weeks.

The restaurant and bar located upstairs were started five years ago by one of our region’s most passionate identities, Steve and his partner, Mandy. Our youngest son, Fraser, works behind the bar there at least once a week and has been with Fred’s almost since it started. These days, even though he has a full time job, so much does he love the business and the people he works with, he chooses to work weekend shifts and sees it not as work, but as a social outlet. As a family business owner, you’re doing something very right if people want to come and work in your business every day.

So destructive was the fire that 19 businesses were directly or indirectly impacted. Fred’s was severely damaged and my guess is the clean-up will be a long one. Businesses located underneath, ranging from an Optometrist to a Beauty Salon; Dog Groomers to a Take Away Food Bar; Gift Shop to Professional Services, have all suffered some degree of fire and water damage. It is truly devastating.

Except, this is not just a fire and these are not just businesses. Each of these family business owners are now watching their life’s work in jeopardy.

These are the long held dreams of humble people who took the gamble one day and said,”I’m going to set up my own business”, who this week are dealing with the stress and upset of an event completely out of their control.

These are the lay awake at night people, those who earlier this year said to themselves, “how are we going to get through a lockdown with COVID?”. Their early AM thoughts, their scribbled plans on scrap paper, their constant checking of news and government announcements meant they developed strategies to ensure their babies, for that’s what these family businesses are to most of their owners, survived, then thrived out the other side.

This is not a fire and these aren’t just businesses. These are families building futures, employing people building their own futures. These are individuals taking the biggest risk of all to “have a go” and in the process, create something from nothing and contribute enormously to their local community.

When 60% of Australia’s GDP and more than 50% of Australia’s employment is created in and by family businesses, you realise this is not just a fire and a bunch of family businesses. This is the heart of what our local communities stand for – and by extension, what we, as Australians, stand for.

So, next time you venture into someone else’s family business, think about not just the product or the service that’s on offer. Think about what that family business truly represents. Consider what it contributes to our local communities, to our society and to our nation as a whole. Right there, you will see why family businesses are so important to all of us and why, for all of us to prosper, so must those family businesses.

When we engage economically with family businesses, we’re doing our bit to help them pay the bills, keep people employed and create a solid future. Australia’s road to recovery will be driven not by large corporates, but by family businesses. The more we engage with family businesses, the stronger Australia’s recovery will be.