6 September 2022

Six months on, bushfire scars remain

| Kim Treasure
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House still standing surrounded by burnt bushland.

Surrounded by burnt bushland, Kim’s house at Malua Bay was still standing following the New Year’s Eve bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

Just a month before the bushfires hit the NSW South Coast on New Year’s Eve, I was lucky enough to be made redundant.

Putting “lucky” and “redundant” together may seem like an oxymoron but, in retrospect, lucky is exactly what it was.

Faced with a massive clean up after bushfire tore through my 10-acre property in Malua Bay – taking with it both my adult children’s homes, as well as damaging my own house and destroying fences, stables, sheds and round yards – paid work was the furthest thing from my mind.

I’m in awe of those people who went back to their day jobs while still battling to find some sort of new normal at home. I’m not sure I could have done that. Bunkering down, cleaning up and rebuilding was the best I could do.

Anecdotally, you hear of people who quit their jobs and, more tragically, some who took their own lives, because the stress and strain was just too much.

Six months on from the devastating bushfires, we are the lucky ones. There are still retaining walls to be built, fences to be fixed and burnt bush to be cleared, but everyone has a roof over their head, our homes are warm and we have each other.

Not everyone is so fortunate.

There are people still living in tents, others struggling with mental health problems, children terrified by the sight of pile burns and business owners trying to make sense of the new world order brought on by fire and COVID-19.

With the NSW Bushfire Inquiry behind us and the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements in full swing, now is the time for us to take stock.

There were failings in our systems that allowed these tragic bushfires to happen, and then failed to catch people when they fell through the safety net at the other end.

The NSW Government’s offer to pay for the clean up was a stroke of genius. The relief I felt when the Laing O’Rourke crew came through with their professionalism and compassion was immense. My heart goes out to those in Cobargo and its surrounds who are still waiting. It’s hard to move on when all that you’ve lost is staring you in the face.


READ ALSO: Petrol taken from buses for firetrucks

Bushfires are a part of the Australian landscape and we need to learn how to respond to them.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I know what would have helped me. I like to think of them as the three Cs:

– Better communication.

– Better coordination.

– More cooperation.

Looking back, the most frightening part of the bushfire emergency was our inability to access timely information. With phone towers down, no internet, no television and limited radio, we were essentially on our own. There was no way to call for help, let alone reassure family and friends that we were alive.

I can understand losing essential services in a disaster, but when days turned into weeks and now months without access to reliable telephone and internet, it’s hard to stomach.

It’s even harder when you are constantly told to access emergency relief via websites or helplines. We deserve better.

Next, coordination.

When you have been through a traumatic experience, having to relay it over and over again to well-meaning support workers is harrowing. Worse still were the instances of people who’d lost everything lining up behind others complaining of smoke damage to their drapes. Surely the state government could compile one list of victims and their individual circumstances which could be used by charitable organisations to allocate funding.

READ ALSO: Charges laid after alleged bushfire fraud

All that flows through to the final piece of the puzzle: cooperation.

Eurobodalla Shire Council’s call for emergency service agencies and infrastructure to be combined makes sense.
On New Year’s Day, representatives from at least four different organisations visited my property. All gave me different advice and information.

Again, we can do better.

Finally, let’s put the debate about climate change behind us once and for all. The time for talk is over. What we need now is action. No-one wants to see another Black Summer.

Were you affected by the Black Summer bushfires? What changes would you like to see? Please comment below.

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Dallis Tanner8:35 pm 06 Jul 20

I would like a combined RFS, cultural cool burn trained practitioners and Landcare to work together to ensure built up areas have a better managed interface with forested areas. Currently I have heard that RFS will not work with cool burn offs which I is a great shame.
I would like to learn how to do cool burn offs over small patches but would appreciate the back up of the RFS. If they won’t help I’ll have to do it without them.
Recently RFS did a massive burn off at South Head that caused great alarm to many including myself. They did not inform the neighbours I heard. This is not recommended best practice.
Once we have burnt off it will take ongoing management of the burnt landscape to ensure weeds and thick regrowth are avoided. This is where Landcare can assist.
If we don’t all combine to ensure we prepare these destructive fires will happen again.

Suzanna Palombi4:17 pm 01 Jul 20

I was a permanent resident of Batemans Bay.
Nye was chaotic…I wouldn’t have gone to the evac centre if my son hadn’t phoned me and yelled at me to “go now” !! It was 11:42am
He’d been monitoring the situation, and was on the phone to a mate who lived further up my street.
The situation was looking diabolical.
No sirens? no warnings? but the ominous black clouds were looming over and there were “bangs” in the distance that were way too close for comfort.
We had the car packed ready with all our stuff.
In minutes, hearts pounding, fear driven, we were into the car and we left.
The evac centre is 1km down the road from my place, by the time we got there the day had turned into night.
Outside the Evac Centre
The evac centre carpark was hectic, people standing with scarves across their faces.
In the cruel black acrid smoke
people (who were they?) were directing our cars with our headlights into makeshift carpark on the sports oval.
(I will never know what kind of amazing person would offer to do that job).
We all line up with hundreds of other cars and cover our faces as we go up some stairs and try to find the entrance. We can’t see, it’s dark as night and black smoke is everywhere.
Inside the Evac Centre
No power so no aircon, no lights, its dark, its very hot and theres hundreds of sweaty people everywhere and some are yelling to keep the door closed so the smoke doesn’t come in. There’s very loud chatter and dogs are barking. There’s hundreds of everyone in there. None or little room to stand let alone sit.
Someone yells at us, we have to fill in some paperwork (name, address and ph number I think?) in the dark with no lights…pens and phone lights become gold in that moment.
There are 3 buildings all close together, the main evac centre, the basketball club and the church.
We decide to check them out.
Outside it was black, smokey and very eerie. I was scared, all three of us are scared
We go from one building to the next. The basketball court is filled with smoke, less people, but you can’t breathe… we find a decent spot at the church further along there’s no power but theres a few less people there and we sit and wait.
A few hours later.
The dark clouds have lifted, it’s now a dark grey smokey hazy day but no longer black….just end of world looking.

We decide to put some of our stuff in the car but once we get there we decide to get in and drive slowly back home (me and my 2 friends who’d come to the Bay for New Years)
Going home
We still weren’t sure at this stage if we even had a home to go back to?
Thankfully as i drive up then down the hill….my house …
is still there.
A huge wave of relief!
Later that day
I take a walk up the road to see how my son’s friends are going?
On my way, i see houses and cars burned or smoking.
I am shocked and so sad.
It could easily have been my house?
I see people standing where the fire has burned either their houses, garages, fences, trees, yards, sheds.
Most of them are elderly and they want to talk to someone….anyone about what happened or they’re wandering around outside their front yard looking a bit shell shocked and dont really know what to say?
I get to my son’s friends house, and we do a check with each other.
His kids give me a cuddle and his dear wife hands me a bottle of wine to take home to my friends for New Years…..such a crazy strange day?
Wine, never tasted so good.
New Years Day (Wed)
Grocery queues in town for up to 3 hours. (theres no limits set to what you can buy though)
I think I bought the last 2 butane gas canisters……
No cold stuff. Staff were not allowed to sell anything from the store fridges.
Later that night (Wed)
The danger is not over and we’ve all been advised that Saturday is going to be “catastrophic, so We formulate a plan to get out of the Bay.
The decision has been made we’re leaving.
(the drive to Canberra) Thurs
Servo 1
Fuel? queues for what seemed like forever? finally got to the browser only to get $6 worth….the bowser was empty…no fuel left at ours and there’s huge queues lined up for all the other browsers…..so we leave.
Servo 2
We get to the next service station? with a queue that also goes on forever.
I had half a tank in my car, we’d decided, we were going to Canberra that day no matter what, we would go as far as half a tank would take us?
Servo 3
Luckily for us, the 3rd service station we went to was just outside of Moruya, there were about 30 cars waiting but we managed to get in pretty quickly and we finally, thankfully filled up.
The trip
We were going to travel via Brown Mountain and through Cooma
We started our epic crazy eleven and three quarter hour journey to Canberra (yep that’s right….11.45 hours from Batemans Bay to Canberra.
We started at 8:45am and arrived in Canberra at 8:30pm that night) for what seemed like bumper to bumper almost the whole way there with apocalyptic skies on top of us, kilometre after kilometre after kilometre of burned out fields and bushland and thick smoke surrounding us the whole hazardous drive back.
The reality
There is no plan A, let alone a plan B…We all realised what happened on NYE and other critical days, that “THEY” have got no idea…..NONE.
It was by no means chaos? considered the circumstances, everyone seemed unbelievably ‘together’….but it had only been a few days at this point.
Had more time passed and there was no food, no fuel, no roads in or out…who knows? I don’t ever want to and I can’t even begin to imagine what would or could happen then?
We saw the really good side of people and amazingly that still continues to this day but the reality of our vulnerability and the fragility of…..everything really.
Where we were, what had just happened?
what did we just see? what really happened? what had happened to good people? and sadly even the bad element that lurked out there in the twisted grey mist.
What could have…might have happened?….and to many, it did happen and sadly, they’re still suffering…i dont understand?
It is chilling, sobering, heartbreaking.
I still think about it everyday and i still shake my head.

Thank you for sharing Suzanna

Jennyifer Butt OAM2:50 pm 01 Jul 20

I live at Moruya Heads and my area was not impacted by flame but we were impacted mentally and because of the condition of the National Park, Shire Council Reserve, State Forest, Private Property which encloses all the residents of Moruya South Heads terrifies the life out of us all. Some months have past and there has been one burn to reduce fire hazard and another on the list to do. But surely the representatives of the above mentioned could make an attempt to reduce their fire hazard. When summer comes in a few short months do we once again stand in our yards watching the sky for smoke, watching the windsock for wind changes and following F/B Notice Boards to see where fire is again.

My husband has tried his utmost to fireproof our home and yard but not one person in our street has attempted to make their home safe. There will not be any change unless we all pull together and not run as soon as a warning comes over the mobile phone at 8am telling you to leave our home. In leaving you may lose you home, your belongings, your pets and during the last fire threat people left their homes and turned sprinklers on hoping it would save their homes. The most disturbing thing was people left cats, dogs, aviary birds and chooks all to burn if the fire came. In their blind panic by leaving hoses on the water ran down the gutters and it nearly emptied the water tower there was no pressure to fight a fire if needed.

There needs to be 100% education to the householder of how to prepare and prevent fire well in advance and how to act in the worst situation that they find themselves in. Not just put a fire ready book in the post box, I would say many put that booklet in the bin.

If we were to have a fire station at Moruya Heads and volunteers to run it at least if the need arises any embers blown into the bush at the Heads would be attended to. We need to work as a community to protect what we have and then there might not be a need to run not when the nearest fire is in the hills behind Moruya.

As it is now we are still the same and with the grace of God fire will not come again, we can only pray.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Kim you sum up what many have expressed about the fires. The instances of different agencies giving conflicting information is all too common & has only added to the enormous burden & stress of people affected. Surely getting on the same page is not such a difficult task for future disaster management.

As one way of looking to future fire events that I fear will be inevitable, I have become aware of community rural fire trailers that may be hugely helpful in future.

The Blue Mountains townships have these community fire trailers scattered around the suburbs & tied to posts or fences on the front verges of homes for the specific purpose of providing a means to fight fires that approach or are just igniting in the area. I can supply a photo of an example of these trailers that is still in Brook Road Glenbrook near fire-prone areas.
I will be sending an email & photos of this trailer to ESC to suggest they are placed around the Eurobodalla & other fire-prone shires. I am amazed these have not been rolled out as a matter of course (& practical common sense) to all fire-prone districts around NSW & Australia.

I was not actually home when the fires struck on NYE, and am so grateful to be spared the horrific memories you must all find replaying in your minds repeatedly.
The three C’s are a great starting point. Thankyou for an excellent article.

Thanks Tanya. I’ve spotted those trailers too and they look great.

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