31 December 2020

Bushfire anniversary triggers impact on south coast

| Michael Weaver
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Moruya bushfires

A Moruya family monitors the bushfires from the Moruya River on 31 December 2019. Photo: Lisa Herbert.

Communities on the NSW South Coast are being urged to look out for each other on the first anniversary of the devastating bushfires that started on New Year’s Eve 2019.

As people affected by last summer’s bushfires mark the new year in their own ways with events in Batemans Bay and Bega, the Australian Red Cross says communities need to be aware of the longer-term psychological and emotional impacts.

“Everyone copes differently, but we know that a year on, it’s very common for people to still be struggling in their personal recovery. For others, new emotions may surface during the anniversary, which is very normal,” says Australian Red Cross National Recovery Adviser Dr Kate Brady.

“For people affected, this is the time to take good care of yourself, and we encourage community members to look after each other. Check in with each other so you’re not braving it alone and seek help if you need extra support.

Psychologist and Australian Red Cross consultant in disaster recovery Dr Rob Gordon said those in bushfire-impacted communities can prepare themselves and take control during an anniversary.

“Anniversaries are a very important part of creating a sense of history. Putting things into the past helps us to put the present into perspective, allowing us to recover,” he said.

“Some people may feel that they don’t want to think about the anniversary because it’s upsetting, but it’s incredibly difficult to avoid acknowledging anniversaries.

“Make a plan for the anniversary. Be prepared for there to be some emotion. Ask yourself: who do you want to be there with you on the anniversary and support you?”

READ ALSO 2020 Year in Review: Community

Despite COVID-19, numerous events have been planned to help see out 2020 and bring some cheer to the region.

The show will go on for the Light Up The Bay commemorative light display event in Batemans Bay.

Organisers say they are excited for the community to gather and mark the one-year anniversary of the onset of the Black Summer bushfires on their town.

Hosted by the Batemans Bay Business and Tourism Chamber as part of the ‘Love the Bay’ initiative, the event features a stunning light display and busker-style music on the Batemans Bay foreshore from 6:00 pm till 10:00 pm.

The event includes a commemorative ceremony from 8:00 pm which will be attended by several local dignitaries including NSW Resilience Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, local RFS Captain Ian Aitken, Federal Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips and several business representatives.

The public is encouraged to enjoy dinner or a takeaway meal at a local eatery before or after visiting the foreshore to see the lights. The event is alcohol-free.

Businesses from across Batemans Bay and Mogo have pledged support and shops, restaurants and cafes will be extending trading for the evening on 31 December to allow locals and visitors the chance to book tables in line with COVID-safe guidelines.

Batemans Bay’s Chamber president Mathew Hatcher said he looks forward to bringing the community together one year on, despite concerns around COVID-19 outbreaks in parts of Sydney.

“We know that December 31 is an important date for all of us and we need to recognise its significance together. This commemorative event is an opportunity to come together to thank the RFS and all of those who have helped our community get back on its feet,” Mr Hatcher said.

The event will also be live-streamed on Facebook for people with concerns about attending a gathering of people.

There will be no admittance if you are from Sydney’s Northern Beaches or areas where a positive case has been identified. ID will be required to enter.

The event will occur at the Batemans Bay Foreshore (Clyde Street) and Mara Mia Walkway.

At Bega, flags will be lowered to half-mast in Littleton Gardens on New Year’s Eve to acknowledge the first anniversary of the start of the Black Summer bushfires in the Bega Valley Shire.

Bega Valley Shire Mayor Russell Fitzpatrick will join general manager Leanne Barnes, NSW RFS Far South Coast District Manager Superintendent John Cullen and Bega Valley Shire Council Director Community, Environment and Planning, Alice Howe at Littleton Gardens from 8:30 am.

If you or someone you know needs help at this time, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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