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19 January 2021
A story of renewal
Words Naomi Singlehurst
In the picturesque NSW hamlet of Kangaroo Valley, a stunning river creates an idyllic backdrop for both locals and tourists who flock to the area over the summer.
However, just over one year ago, on Christmas and Boxing Day 2019, there was smoke in the air, the bush was tinder dry and concern was growing about the huge Currowan fire front that was inching north.
Laura and her husband Scott – together with their adult children and families, spent a hot but enjoyable family Christmas together in their beloved Kangaroo Valley house, ‘Burrawang’.
As the family was packing up on Boxing Day to head off for a coastal break, Scott suggested they pack some photographs and other precious items as a precaution.
“We almost felt sheepish driving away with all this stuff, thinking in a few weeks we would just be carting it back again,” Laura recalls, saying the family never dreamed fire would directly affect their sandstone home.
By early January, the Currowan fire – which had started near Batemans Bay in late November and eventually burnt about 500,000 hectares and destroyed more than 300 homes – had reached the Shoalhaven region and the township of Kangaroo Valley came under threat.
Laura explains: “Scott wanted to head back but our friend, who rents a small cottage from us on the property, said no. Visibility was almost zero and access to Kangaroo Valley was through bush both ways. He said he’d turn on the roof sprinkler system if needed.”
On 4 January 2020, a southerly change diverted the fire away from the main town centre, but, sadly, Burrawang was in the fire’s path and was reduced to ashes.
Laura says: “Our friend left in time, thank goodness. If Scott had gone down, maybe with our son, there is a very good chance they would not be here today.”
Laura says the family was in shock when they returned home. “There was nothing left standing, not a blade of grass. It was an unbelievable sight ... no house, a few plates in the rubble. The sheds were just little piles of molten nothing,” she says. “There was no sign of life. It was so quiet – no birds – an awful choking smell.”
Laura says she and the family also felt “incredibly lucky” and, with fires blazing all over the state and country, she felt she had “to do something”. So she started a fundraising page.
She explains: “The Salvos were the best way to do it, we thought. We nominated The Salvation Army Bushfire Disaster Appeal as our charity, as they were already on the frontline assisting volunteer firefighters and those who have lost their homes and loved ones.”
With huge support from family and friends, Laura had initially hoped to raise “maybe $5000”, but was surprised and delighted to raise over $127,000.
Two members of Laura’s family with the few items remaining after the bushfire.
A group of passionate Kangaroo Valley locals set up their own drop-in centre – with food, clothes, pet feed and more.
Laura contacted the Salvos to let them know about the funds. Laura also asked if some help could possibly come to Kangaroo Valley.
In response, the Salvos organised for Lieutenant-Colonel John Hodge, a retired Salvos officer (pastor), to travel to Kangaroo Valley to train existing volunteers [in dispersing funds]. The Salvos also covered some of the rent for the drop-in centre.
“Kangaroo Valley is a beautiful, tight-knit community and one of the advantages of that little neighbourhood centre was that they were not only giving out material help but also sharing friendship and a listening ear. It was lovely,” says John.
Over three days, as well as training volunteers, including a team from Canberra, John was able to organise $80,000 of immediate assistance for fire-affected locals.
John says January 2020 was a sobering post-Christmas period for many.
For Laura, the regeneration of nature and generosity of others has given great comfort. “Within days we saw signs of life,” she says. “The initial shock, horror, sadness and crying all the time, soon gave way to absolute fascination as to how the bush has regenerated. And now birds are back. It is very heart-warming.”
Naomi Singlehurst is Content Specialist - Mission, for The Salvation Army