* This page was last updated on 23rd December 2020.

Elaine and Gordon

Elaine and Gordon own and operate an eco-tourism agency on the South Coast.

On the 4th of January this year the ‘border fire’ was threatening their region and residents were warned to prepare as the weather pushed the fire their way.

Elaine and Gordon spent the day preparing the house for bushfire, and took all the kayaks and camping gear for their business into Eden. The pair then evacuated to Eden to wait. They went to the wharf and waited all night at the harbour master’s office with hundreds of others.

The next day they knew the fire had gone through their town but didn’t know how it had affected their property. They were eventually told their house was standing, but they weren’t allowed home yet.

When they were able to return home, three days after evacuating, they saw the entire property had been burnt, except for the house.

“We did a lot of work to prepare the house – and clearly it was the right thing to do,” said Elaine.

However, the sheds, the garden, garage and bridge to the house were all destroyed.

Worried about looters, the couple moved back into the house but spent 17 days without power, water, phone or internet connection.

“Having a shower was a planned event. We were camping in our house. It’s definitely not as much fun as our camping trips!’ said Elaine.

“This is our busiest season, and we were heavily booked. We were looking forward to the biggest year ever,” said Elaine.

However, the damage from the fire, to their property and to the surrounding wilderness, meant that all tours had to be cancelled.

“We have a lot of clients from Victoria, and those roads were closed for 6 weeks, so even if people wanted to come on tour they couldn’t reach us,” said Elaine.

Even once they thought they could get back to their tours, the river flooded.

“At first it was, ‘Thank God it’s raining’, but then further tours had to be cancelled - you can’t kayak on a flooded river!” said Elaine.

“This year we’ve also missed out on eights cruise ship tours,” she added.

Without income coming in, the couple were starting to feel the financial strain.

“Our house didn’t burn down, but we don’t have an income,” said Elaine.

“We were insured, but, like a lot of people, have discovered we are underinsured. Like, people have told us we should have insured the bridge on our property– but who insures a bridge?!”

“We were eating into our profits, and then the bills started coming in and we had no money for us.

A few weeks after the bushfire destroyed their property, Elaine and Gordon eventually went to the Bega Recovery Centre to seek assistance.

“It was hard to go in and ask for help. We are usually proud small business operators and support 2 incomes with our tours and campsites. We are very self-sufficient people.”

“A lot of people aren’t asking for help. People saying, ‘there are people a lot worse off than me’, and we are also among the lucky ones – our house is still standing,” said Elaine.

For all the damage caused, the fires bring out a lot of good in people.

“It’s just amazing how it affected everyone. We are all in this together. Some days are full of tears, and others are building us up, and other days we are the ones building others up while they have tears.”

Help and support comes in varied and beautiful ways. After Elaine posted on Instagram a picture of a destroyed protea, somebody who had been on a kayak tour two years earlier got in touch to say they worked for a protea wholesaler and delivered some plants to replace the burnt ones.

Elaine and Gordon received emergency assistance from Vinnies that allowed them to buy food, pay for fuel, and get back on their feet until their tours could start again, and income started coming back in.

“We are extremely grateful to Vinnies for the ‘hand up’. We were reluctant to ask for help but we had no option. We needed to get back on the tours so that business could resume and we could become self-sufficient again,” said Elaine.

“We are so grateful. Thank you.”

Ralph and Lyn

 

Ralph & Lyn Miller live on 24 acres at Kiah, on the far south coast of NSW.

 

In the first few days of 2020 the couple were preparing their property for bushfires that were predicted for the area. They were well prepared and following all advice. Ralph had been a member of the RFS for many years so felt confident that if they followed correct procedures they’d be fine.

 

But by the 4th January the Nungatta fire and the Border fire were zeroing in and proving to be unstoppable. They met in Kiah and destroyed roughly 40 houses out of 70 in the area.

 

‘The church and community hall fell victim, along with every wooden bridge and plastic under-road drainpipe,’ said Ralph.

 

Ralph and Lyn had been preparing to stay to defend their home, but had the car packed up as well just in case.

 

The fires were like nothing they’d ever seen before and Ralph noted that ‘the air was running out of oxygen.’

 

They ended up leaving four hours before the fire hit and Ralph says, ‘any later and we wouldn’t have made it.’

 

‘We were extremely lucky.’

 

The couple evacuated three times that day – first to Eden, then to Merimbula Airport then, as the fire drew ever closer, to Merimbula itself.

 

‘We were fire refugees for several days, and as no one could get in here due to blocked roads, we didn’t know if our house was standing,’ said Ralph.

 

After four days, the couple returned to their property. Hundreds of power poles burnt down in the area, and there were wires lying on the ground to be negotiated, but the couple found their house still standing.

 

‘We were lucky as it turned out. Our house was alight, but went out. Part of our wooden deck was burnt and a wooden retaining wall leading up to the other side of our house, was burnt before falling on our rainwater tank and damaging it.’

 

‘All fences were burnt, and we lost three goats,’ said Ralph.

 

‘We’d emptied the shed of cars and lawnmowers and so on, and taken them down to the river bed. The fire stopped within a metre of the shed, so we were lucky there too.’

 

Without power for five weeks, the couple were not able to safely stay at their home, and so stayed at a friend’s place in Eden, travelling to their property each day to do as much clean up as possible.

 

Ralph and Lyn went in to the Recovery Centre in Eden where they met with Vinnies volunteers who were able to provide them with $1000 from the government, as well as money from the Vinnies bushfire appeal funds.

 

‘I couldn’t tell you exactly where that money went – there were just so many expenses. Hardware, plumbing, carpet cleaning. We’ve been flat out for five months. The amount of work has been incredible, from clearing many partly burnt fallen trees to repairing burnt sewer pipes and water lines.’ 

 

‘The retainer wall has now been replaced with one that won’t burn, and the tank is being replaced the day after tomorrow, weather permitting,’ Ralph said in mid-May.

 

The recovery process is long and expensive.

 

‘And we know we’re some of the lucky ones. There are plenty of people around here still in tents or caravans.’

 

‘And the damage to the environment and the wildlife will go on for ages.’

 

'There have been many expenses in the course of this work as well. So thank again Vinnies.'