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'Tragic yet beautiful': Shillington and Toopi's Cobargo experience

David Shillington saw incredible strength and kindness shine through unfathomable pain on a trip to the bushfire-ravaged NSW town of Cobargo last weekend.

The former Australia, Queensland, Roosters and Raiders prop visited the hurting region with ex-Warriors centre and fellow NRL Community worker Clinton Toopi, describing it as an "eye-opening" experience.

The duo were there along with South Coast-raised NRLW players Kezie Apps and Millie Boyle when Cobargo banded together for a "New Year's Raincheck" celebration, with the pub and bottle shop reopening as the town paid tribute to the people they'd lost to the fires.

Shillington and Toopi also met Tim Salway, whose father and brother were killed on New Year's Eve while attempting to protect their farm.

"A tornado firestorm ripped through Tim's dad's property and Tim could see it all unfold from their property, he could see the properties from a distance," Shillington told

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"That was on top of a lot of their cattle dying, fences burning down and trees and grass and everything just getting destroyed."

Adding to the heartbreak, Salway's elderly grandmother peacefully passed away a day later.

Salway's 13-year-old Blake son is a passionate rugby league player - a front-rower like Shillington - so the Queensland and Test representative gave him a special gift.

"I brought down one of my own jerseys that I wore representing Australia that had number 10 on the back," Shillington said.

It was tragic, yet beautiful at the same time

Former NRL player David Shillington on bushfire recovery efforts

"I said to Blake if he's got aspirations to play for Australia one day he's going to need a jersey to play in and here's a good one to hold him over until he gets one of his own.

"He was pretty thrilled, the young fella. He's a bit of a character.

"Despite what they'd all been through they were tough, resilient people determined to push on and rebuild their property and not stand still and let things get worse than they'd already been."

Shillington said gunshots had constantly been going off as farmers were forced to kill their suffering cattle.

"They had to shoot them and they were driving around in little mini Bobcats to bury them and get rid of them all. We're talking hundreds of cattle per farm," he said.

However, as Salway told Shillington, one of the great things to come from such a disaster has been the community spirit.

Salway had a group of men randomly show up to his property and repair the barbed wire fence near his driveway for free - a job that normally would have cost thousands.

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They finished before Salway had the chance to thank them but Shillington and Toopi ran into the generous tradesmen by chance that night at the Bermagui pub.

"They were from a town near Wagga Wagga. They said they were swagging it for the week and helping out with all the bushfire recovery," Shillington said.

"They did a fundraiser back home, raised 50 grand, got a semi-trailer full of donated items including fencing gear and came down for a week to help out.

"It was tragic, yet beautiful at the same time."

Aside from his love of helping in the community, Shillington felt compelled to visit Cobargo because his father was a fireman all his life until retiring a few years ago.

He was pretty thrilled, the young fella. He's a bit of a character

Shillington on his Test jersey giveaway

Shillington was also evacuated from his home on Queensland's Sunshine Coast due to smaller bushfires before Christmas, leading him to join the Rural Fire Service.

"The rural firies are just regular people from the community, men and women, rolling up their sleeves and doing that dirty work that a lot of people don't want to do but needs to be done," he said.

Broncos NRLW prop Boyle, who hails from Cobargo, has set up a fundraising page that has almost passed $9000 to assist with the recovery.

She also played music at Cobargo's recent celebration.

Meanwhile, Dragons NRLW captain Apps, a Bega local, has been helping at her town's evacuation centre as well as raising spirits around the region.

Acknowledgement of Country

Canberra Raiders respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.