Living in an Old Bus After Bushfires

Monday 9 March 2020

Donate to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal to aid communities in recovery like Nymboida.

Bushfire damage in Nymboida, in the NSW Northern Rivers region.

Even in a community of vibrant characters, some people inevitably stand out. In Nymboida one of them is Coswold Scott. ‘Cos’ has lived locally since 1973, after moving up from Camden, in a brick house that was once an amenity centre and dormitory for staff at an old coal mine.

A man with furniture-making skills – “I used to make red cedar tables, some of them from recovered timber on my property” – and a keen eye for antiques and collectibles, he had filled his home with 50 years’ worth of memorabilia. Boot-making tools and coffee machines from 1950s Sydney were amongst his prized items.

None of it, including his house, was insured.

Cos Scott with Vinnies volunteers, who helped provide him with emergency financial assistance.

“We’d never had a burn there, ever,” Cos says, adding that in winter, aware of the dry conditions, he and his neighbours had engaged a bulldozer to clear potentially hazardous growth. “We were mindful of comments by a long-ago mayor who had said Kangaroo Creek will go up like a bomb if there’s ever a bushfire.”

An additional precaution was to install large, agricultural-sized sprinklers over his house.

All this was to no avail when fire swept through the area, moving at what he estimates was 50 kilometres per hour, getting under the roof and engulfing the house in flames that were impossible to combat. Trees were burnt, even the rainforest remnant, and wildlife was killed.

“There were lots of koalas, including one that stayed near the house… he’s gone. The bush turkeys were lost, and six kangaroos, including an unusual tiny one, about the size of a cat that we used see after dark… all gone.”

Cos now lives in an old bus that he’d kept off-site, and uses showers in the canoe and camping centre that is housing fire evacuees.

In February, Vinnies volunteer members from Maclean and Yamba held an information session in the Nymboida hall, offering financial grants and referrals to other agencies. Cos and 20 other locals impacted by the November 2019 fires came to discuss their experiences and ongoing needs.

Members of Vinnies’ Yamba-based St James Conference, volunteering at the circa-1911 Nymboida Hall.

Recipients of support expressed gratitude for both the practical assistance that Vinnies could offer, as well as the emotional encouragement offered.

“Nymboida is one of the most mixed demographics imaginable,” says Gray Stride, dubbed the “unofficial mayor of Nymboida” and the only board member of the canoe and camping centre co-op whose house was spared by the bushfire.

“In a typical few months we’d get together in the hall for a BBQ and some beers, a concert or a dance, or join a solstice celebration up on the hill. We’ve got everyone: tradies, farmers, alternates, you name it. That’s why it’s such a great place.”

Or it was, until the fires destroyed 90 homes and caused widespread damage. Now, evacuees are trickling back to re-establish their lives, with 20 returning so far, living in caravans, tents and the sheds that survived.

Unofficial mayor of Nymboida, Gray Stride.

The road to recovery will be long and challenging, with Vinnies committed to stand with bushfire-ravaged communities such as Nymboida to assist with the journey.

We are still calling for donations to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal so that we can continue supporting people like Cos Scott and his neighbours in Nymboida. So far we have distributed $10.3 million across the affected states in financial grants, helping households hit by bushfires to repair broken infrastructure, purchase emergency accommodation, buy fuel to travel elsewhere, and more.

We are determined to keep going – can you help? Please donate today.