It looked like a war zone

TransferWise
05.08.20
4 minute read

With Australia ablaze due to bushfires at the start of this year, Nomadic SCUBA owner Matt Waters knew that he couldn't just sit by. His clients agreed and helped Matt take support down to the New South Wales South Coast to help some of the hardest hit communities get back on their feet.

TransferWise is a new way of managing your money internationally for a fraction of the price of a bank or PayPal. This is the continuation of our Lives Without Borders series, in which we speak to people whose careers and lifestyles have transcended borders. If you need to send money, you can join TransferWise here.


Everything was gone. The only recognizable thing was the tarmac.

As we drove down from Sydney to the South Coast, we initially saw little pockets of burnt land. The road was stained red by the fire retardant that had been dropped from the air. After a while, the magnitude of the destruction hit us.

A couple of friends and I had decided to organise some support for the communities in Mogo and Cobargo, which were hit especially hard, but where support hadn’t arrived yet. I shared our plan on Facebook, explained that I was collecting donations, and the money just flew in. We filled 6 cars and 2 trailers with supplies and drove down as soon as we could. By the time we got there, it looked like a war zone — I’ve been in the military, so that isn’t an exaggeration. Everything was gone: buildings, plants, trees. The only recognisable thing was the tarmac. There were 9 displaced families in Mogo. We made sure to buy tents, food, bedding and clothing; along with gas burners and stoves so they’d be able to cook safely.

The eeriest thing was that there were no animal noises or bird calls, no signs of life in what would normally be a lush forest. When I was talking to the locals, I heard stories of people just jumping into the water. The fire came so suddenly, and they'd figured it was the only way to be safe. But the fire consumed all the oxygen. Luckily, someone from a nearby town brought a boat, grabbed people out of the water, and took them to safety.

I’d had previous experience raising money for charitable causes, so I knew that any donations from abroad would be hit by currency exchange costs and transaction fees. That’s why I used my TransferWise account — I knew it would get the money directly where it needed to go, and avoid costly bank fees. My friend Benny went to buy a generator to provide power in Mogo, but he needed some extra funds. I opened the TransferWise app and sent the money to his bank. It arrived while he was still in the store, which was a bit of a shock to the store owner! That payment would have taken days with a bank. And when I was buying supplies, I just used my TransferWise card so it was all easily accounted for.

After gathering the resources there were A$500 of donations left over. So, while I was in Mogo I met with the CEO of the local indigenous community there and we gave that money to the community. She shed a couple of tears, and I knew I’d done the right thing. I’m certain they’re going to put it to good use.


My world is all about scuba diving now

I left the military in 2013 after 17 years. I went to Thailand for 6 months to go diving and I was offered a job teaching people how to dive. I’d somehow gone from a military lifestyle to living on the beach and wearing board shorts, and didn’t look back. Diving is an escape for me. I think it’s the serenity, the proximity to nature. You always have to focus on the here and now, and all you hear are your bubbles.

After 4 years spent working in Thailand I moved to Papua New Guinea to head up the dive operations at a resort. From there, my next step was to start a dive agency to throw all of my energy into growing that business.

Last year I was invited to shoot a pilot for a TV series, and we plan to showcase diving hotspots from Adelaide to Cairns. I want to highlight the diving that’s available here in Australia — everyone thinks of the Great Barrier Reef, but there’s so much more beyond that. The diversity in the water here is extraordinary and I’d love to share it with more people. It’s mind-blowing to see people’s reactions after epic dive experiences; it’s the freedom that you feel when you are diving that makes it so life-changing.

TransferWise is proud to help Matt build a business and provide relief in his new home in Australia. We're there to help you manage your money across borders more cheaply and easily too. Join our 6 million customers at TransferWise.com, or through our Android or iOS app.

As told to Chris Hockman exclusively for TransferWise. Photography by Matt Waters and BJG Productions. If you're interested in joining Matt on a dive, learn more about his business here.

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