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Whistler’s Aussies unite

Showing support for victims of the Australian brushfires

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What: Australian Bushfire Appeal Fundraiser
When: Sunday, Feb. 22
Where: Merlin's
Tickets: $20 in advance, $22 at the door

In the aftermath of the worst brushfires in the country's history over 180 people are dead, hundreds of houses destroyed, and thousands of hectares of land burnt, and Australians are now struggling to pick up the pieces.

Leigh Edward is the assistant manager at Merlin's. He moved to Whistler in October from Ballarat, a town two hours south of Melbourne in the state of Victoria. Though Edward's hometown wasn't as hard hit as others by the fires, he's been keeping a close eye on the devastation in the state.

"Every day, I jump onto the internet and have a look. Whole towns have just been obviously been reduced to postcodes - shops, schools, churches, houses, everything," he said. "... 46.7 degrees is the hottest temperature on record in Australia, and they've had consecutive 40 degree days, so it's not good."

The fires have touched a number of Whistler Blackcomb employees, as well as seasonal workers in Whistler, so Edward decided to try and raise some money to show support for people back home.

"In the beginning, I thought, 'let's put some rattle tins on the bar,' but then I thought, 'why don't I just do it properly?'" he said.

After seeing the Australian musician Ash Grunwald perform with Current Swell last week, he sent off an email to Grunwald's manager to see if he would be interested in coming back to Whistler to help with the event. He quickly received a response saying that Grunwald would be there. Now the artist is headlining the event, donating his time and talents at no charge.

The fires have personally affected Grunwald; his parents lost their country home, his in-laws were in Kinglake, the town that was hardest hit by the fires, and he lost a friend in the fires.

"I was in Victoria... I was actually surfing that day down the coast and it was hellish. The weather was 46 degrees, 100 km an hour winds, it would burn your nostrils to breathe," he recalled.

Grunwald didn't leave for his Canadian tour until he found out that his family was safe but he said its been extremely difficult to be away from home at such a trying time.

"They're just there and they're still coming to terms with it," he said. "It's like being in a
war zone, seeing all the dead bodies on the side of the road."

Grunwald plans to play as many benefit shows as possible when he returns to Australia, and when he realized he had time at the end of his Canadian tour he decided to start his fundraising efforts early.

"My hope is just to raise some money and have a fun time," Grunwald said.
So far, the response to the event has been very positive.

"The Australian population in Whistler is fairly large," Edward said with a laugh, "so everyone has sort of said, 'yeah, we're definitely coming and we're bringing all of our friends,' and having Ash Grunwald is just the icing on the cake, really."

The evening will also include authentic Australian tucker (Canadian translation: food) and footy (Australian Rules Football), plus raffles and giveaways with items donated from local businesses.

Tickets are $20 in advance at Merlin's, or $22 at the door with all proceeds going to the Red Cross Victoria Bushfire Appeal.


Whistler's artistic roots

On Thursday, Feb. 22, the Savage Beagle will open its doors to Whistler's arts community during the first annual Whistler Roots Festival.

Organized by local guitarist Damon Hanly, the event features 12 hours of live rock, funk, soul, reggae and blues from a range of local musicians, all set against a backdrop of artwork created by Vanessa Stark and Olivier Roy, and photography by Blake Jorgensen.

"I just know a lot of artists and musicians, and I just wanted to throw a big show to showcase all of their talent because there's lots of talent in Whistler," Hanly explained.

Colin Bullock, Kostaman, Sean Rose, Dani Quayle, Joel MacIsaac, The Release and Papa Josh are all set to take the stage from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m.

Tickets are $10 in advance at the Savage Beagle. Hanly plans to share proceeds from the evening among the artists participating in the event.

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