Moving the donks was our first exposures to how incredible the community we live in could be. We have no horse float (as we walk them places) and no tow bar on our car to allow us to hire or borrow a float, so on the 28th of December I used the Facebook community page, Just Ask Southern Highlands to put the word out that we could use a hand. The response was overwhelming. We had soooo many offers of support, some from people who already had the hands full with other fires. People offered to go miles out of their way to help and some offered us moral support if they could offer no more. It was lovely to feel that we were in a community that was prepared to go out of its’ way to help others.
In the end, the lovely Andrea, Jason and Morgan came to the rescue, picking the boys up on the morning of the 29th and taking them to their agistment just outside the neighbouring village of Exeter. The donks knew the place well as they had been staying there for the year we spent travelling, and they were loved and very well looked after. It made it so much easier to know they were safe and cared for and I’m not sue the donks really knew/cared that they were somewhere else. ‘Grass! Yum! More grass! Yum!’
One we knew that the donks were ok, we could settle back to life at the Folly and the next few days were odd. The village, in fact most of NSW was covered in smoke, it was friggin boiling (over 40oC) and the countryside looked completely shattered; defeated and waiting for the inevitable. The news was full of sad stories; destruction, sorrow, narrow escapes, mercifully few deaths and all anyone talked about were the fires.
For me, my military training was that a defensive position is only ever finished when the enemy get there, so each day we cleared a little more, stuffed a few more holes, prepared a few more neighbours gutters and visited a few more vulnerable people to help or just be supportive. And we drank beer and wine. Beer and wine make most things better.
The RFS really started to become part of our lives at this time too. This volunteer organisation, always selfless but often thankfully under-used were really our only form of defence and they were hugely outnumbered. This really didn’t deter them though and the volunteers left their families and jobs behind day after day, night after night, to protect others. From late October, crews from small villages and towns around NSW raced across the expanse of the state, forming ‘Strike Teams’ to put themselves between the fire and us, working day and night in horrendous conditions and losing some of their colleagues in the fight.
The pressure these volunteers were under must have been incredible as not only were they dealing with fire, many were trying to balance seeing their families, holding down jobs, paying bills etc. Some big companies give volunteers a couple of weeks leave so that they can do their stuff, but often in rural communities’ people are self-employed or work for small companies so choices are harder. Even those in the bigger companies soon used up their two weeks leave and had to deal with this challenge too. They really are an incredible bunch and when I was shown a picture by worried but proud parents of their 16-year-old daughter manning a hose deep in the bush, I must admit my eyes moistened. The ordinary people of the community were showing how extraordinary they could be.
Elsewhere in the community, everybody rallied round, looking out for each other, helping anyone and everyone, organising briefings from the RFS, taking away garden rubbish from each other’s properties, checking in on elderly neighbours, setting up WhatsApp groups and generally acting like we can do at our very best, but often fall short of. It was hugely heart-warming and confidence building.
A great by-product of all this is that in Bundanoon we got to know our neighbours in a way that we would never have without the threat of fire and we formed some great friendships. We have some fascinating, talented and decent people around us.
And then, together, we waited……..