Bled Dry by Drought, Beaten by Bushfires

Monday 6th April 2020

Julie and Darren Sage at a bushfire recovery event. Photo courtesy of The Port Macquarie News.

Darren Sage says he’d already been “bled dry” by the drought before a bushfire destroyed his home and cattle farm in Bellangry, on the NSW Mid North Coast.

While summer was a gruelling time for those impacted by the fires, it came on top of a relentless few years for Darren and his fellow farmers.

“The drought just bleeds you of every cent that you’ve got,” Darren said. “You’ve got no other income, no other money to do anything, because the drought just takes everything. You’re just continuously hoping for rain, continuously pouring money back into the farm to try to keep everything alive for when it does rain.”

The view of the fire from the Sage property.

Devastatingly, more than 30 head of cattle perished in the November 2019 bushfire. In the days after they lost their home, Darren and his wife Julie were out scouring the burnt fields for the remainder of their herd. Fences had been destroyed and the animals had strayed in all directions.

It’s just one way that losing an entire farm is different to losing a house.

“We got wiped out completely, we lost everything,” Darren said. “House: 100%. Sheds: 100%. All our farming things. All our infrastructure, all gone. We basically left with half a suitcase of clothes each, and that was it.”

Bushfire damage on Darren and Julie’s farm.

Making matters even worse, Darren had been released from hospital the very same day the bushfire hit, after undergoing major surgery. Julie had driven him back from Sydney and they’d been home for just a few hours when they had to evacuate.

“I couldn’t drive a car, I could barely walk,” Darren said. “If Julie wasn’t with me, I’d be dead – that’s just plain and simple. If I was by myself, I would have been in bed asleep, you know, with painkillers and so forth. I wouldn’t have known what was going on.”

It’s hard to imagine a worse situation than the one Julie and Darren found themselves in. Yet despite everything, they have no doubt they’ll rebuild and recover.

“I refuse to let it break me,” Darren said. “I’m always positive, so the drought or the fire’s not going to take that away from me.”

The couple are living in temporary accommodation provided by their insurer while the debris is cleared and their home is rebuilt – a process that Darren has already begun with his own two hands.

They were buoyed by an emergency cash transfer from Vinnies, along with food and fuel vouchers. Darren says the support they continue to receive from Vinnies’ Client Support Officer, Donna Boyd, is “absolutely amazing”.

“Donna is the only one who has rang and been fair dinkum, if I could say it that way. She’s just been there for us,” he said.

“She’s the only one that’s gone out of her way to make sure that we’re alright, out of a lot of people, and she’s still trying now to help us.

“And where a lot of people including the government just leave you to your own devices, so to speak, she’s always been making sure we’re alright.”

It’s clear that the ongoing support and check-ins from Vinnies have made a difference for Darren and Julie. Vinnies hasn’t forgotten the people who lost everything in the bushfires – especially not that they’ve dealing with coronavirus too. We are continuing to distribute funds from the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal to families like Darren and Julie, helping them on the long road to recovery.