Under thick smoke, with flames visible to the left and right of George Bass Drive, we drove carefully to see if we could get through to Batemans Bay.
In Broulee, at the Surf Club, we met a group of local heroes. Five-hundred people had been sheltering at the club and on the beach on New Year’s Eve. Many were then evacuated to the Moruya Showground.
A Broulee resident said: “We were out with the hose, could see the flames coming. At about 20 metres from my back fence, the wind changed. That saved the whole town.”
Looking back over these images, they are all brown. I can’t get any colour into them through editing. But that’s what it’s like. Black and brown. And out of earshot of the choppers, completely silent.
At North Broulee a long strip of foreshore and dune had been burnt metres away from homes.
People are gathered on headlands trying to get phone coverage. Everyone looks tired. Beat.
“Go now,” people are saying. “You don’t want to be here this weekend.”
“We don’t know how these fires are going to behave.”
At South Rosedale I meet a woman who is staying to protect her home.
This woman is stoic, prepared, has been looking after her home and garden in protective ways for years. She has water out for wildlife, chalk messages written on her driveway: “I am here.”
“You know, my neighbours each side are Canberrans. One hasn’t been here for 10 years. They rent out these houses on Stayz, and don’t look after the grounds, trim trees, anything. And they don’t care. One said to me they don’t care if it goes up, they have other properties, but I live here. This is my home, our home!”
A local legend ‘Scott’ and Mick Buchanan have saved several South Rosedale homes. Scott calls by to check she is OK. He’s covered with ash. He races off to help with another outbreak, the radio blaring in his car.
“That guy deserves a medal, truly, he’s saving our houses.”
Driving into North Rosedale, there seem to be even fewer than the “10 houses left standing” that we’d heard about.
A man is hosing his neighbour’s verandah: “We keep hosing it but the flames keep coming back.”
We talk about people storing all their firewood under their timber homes, often next to fuel storage tanks and lawnmowers etc.
“I built my house as instructed by the Eurobodalla Council: steel frame, fire proof glass.”
The house on the other side of his has completely disappeared. “I don’t think they even know yet, there’s no phone reception.”
We notice many of the lovely timber shacks and houses that are still standing do have neat piles of wood, mowers and jerry cans stored under their homes. Homes in an idyllic bush setting.
Today we hear George Bass Drive is closed again. It will be interesting to see how many of those Canberra-owned houses, left uncared for in neighbourhoods of worried locals, will be standing at the end of Summer.