Tarati Ngamotu was standing on the side of the road where, earlier that morning, someone had set fire to her car. Not only was it destroyed, but so too were the presents for her daughter’s fourth birthday which was the next day.
“This lady walked past as I was sweeping up the debris after they took the car away and she asked me what I was doing. I told her someone set fire to my car early that morning and that my daughter’s birthday presents were in the boot.
“The lady walked away and came back a little bit later with a gift for my daughter.
“This is why I have been so overwhelmed by the kindness of the people of Yass,” Tarati said.
“Ever since this happened people have been so wonderful, so kind to me.”
It was about 3 am when Tarati’s son Jason, 14, woke her last Friday after hearing an explosion on the road below.
“I was so disoriented that I thought the explosion came from inside. Then I looked down on the road and saw that my car was on fire. I started yelling at my boy to tell him to get away from the window, then we heard a couple of smaller explosions,” Tarati said.
Such was the ferocity of the fire that even though the Yass Fire Station was almost next door to Tarati’s home, it took only minutes for the car to be gutted.
“It took them no time to arrive but it was already too late when I called them. The car went up so quickly.”
Police later confirmed what Tarati already knew – that the fire was no accident.
“It had been sitting there for 12 hours – I hadn’t used it so I knew it couldn’t be an electrical fault. Then the police confirmed it was arson.”
Tarati, originally from New Zealand, moved to Yass about four years ago.
“I had to leave a bad situation behind in Brisbane,” she said.
“I was heavily pregnant at the time. I came to Yass because my father lived here, but I came here with nothing.
“From the moment I moved here, I experienced the warmth and caring of a community I had never experienced before,” she said.
“Even when I went to the hospital, the two ambulance guys who took me there looked after my two boys while I gave birth.
“Coming from the city, it was hard to accept that people could be so kind to someone they didn’t really know. It’s like that TV show Cheers when they say ‘everyone knows your name'”.
After the fire, Tarati said she struggled to cope. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop worrying how she’d get to work, the children to school – just surviving without a car which wasn’t insured.
“I cried for a long time,” she said.
But then the Yass community swung into action. Fellow mothers from her children’s pre-school and school, Melissa Wheatley and Vanessa Payne, put up their hands to help.
They set up a Go Fund Me page to buy the family a car. Local Uber driver Caron Casey gave the family $500 credit so they could get to where they needed and Tarati’s boss organised transport to and from work so she wouldn’t worry about losing her job.
“When I heard what people were doing to help me, I had no words. It was just overwhelming.
“I don’t have any stress anymore because of what this wonderful Yass community has done for me,” she said.
“I’m usually the sort of person who shuts down when things go wrong, but thanks to these wonderful people, I’m back to being myself again. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life before. My faith in human nature has been restored.
“I can’t believe how wonderful this community has been to me and my family – even people I don’t even know.
“I love this place. I’m never leaving Yass.”
More than $5000 has already been raised for Tarati and her family on a GoFundMe page – Generous Hands in a small town. The goal is to raise $6000 to buy her a car and car seats for the two younger children.