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.”