by Jill Goodman, Uarbry
As featured in the 2018 Country Web Annual.
We have lived on our farm near the village of Uarbry for nearly 44 years. My husband Graham grew up here and has worked on the family farm since leaving high school.
Before the Sir Ivan Fire of February 2017, life was somewhat orderly—the farm was going well and we had begun to make plans to take things a little easier, however the fire would forever change that.
As Captain of Uarbry Rural Fire Brigade, Graham received a call about 12 noon on that particular Saturday for the Uarbry Brigade to attend a fire that had started some 30 km west of us. I am not in the brigade but refer to myself as the ‘volunteer’s volunteer’ and so I noted the time the brigade truck left for future reporting.
Early Sunday morning Graham returned home to organise a fresh crew to go on the truck. He told of the seriousness of what was happening and we made plans for me to evacuate to Muswellbrook (where our daughter and family live) if the smoke came our way. He impressed on me the importance of watching and checking the smoke regularly.
About 11:40 am I received a call with a recorded message telling me to evacuate. My next call was from the RFS seeking information about the residents of Uarbry and whether a bus would be needed to evacuate them. Before the call ended I was told there were plans to bring the crew back to defend Uarbry, but that they were in an inaccessible spot and it was not going to work. After that call I turned around and saw a wall of black smoke moving along the highway towards our home. There was no time to pack anything and I left with my handbag and Graham’s wallet. I drove away from home, not thinking that it would not be there for us to return to.
Further east along the highway, from a higher elevation, I saw the flames roll into Uarbry. Our place is west of the village, so the fire had to go through our place before the village. I had sent Graham a text message to let him know I was heading to Muswellbrook and was safe. He rang when he got the message and told me to drive fast. At about midnight he sent a text message to let us know he was safe and staying with friends for the night.
A call from Graham the following morning confirmed that our home was gone. We had been heavily impacted by the fire losing two houses, the woolshed and the sheep and cattle yards, sheds and some machinery, some cattle and 900 lambs, and all the fences. The whole farm had been covered by the fire and we were completely burnt out. All that was familiar was gone including the village church we attended, the community hall, the house that Graham’s mother grew up in, and the school.
Help and recovery started straight away and the morning after the fire, people arrived at our farm to help deal with dead and injured stock and any that had survived. It was completely overwhelming and we were in shock. Our life had been turned upside down and we were in a whirlpool of organising so many things. Life’s road took a sweeping curve and we were faced with many challenges.
We were able to move back to our property two weeks after the fire when I was able to source an 11 metre van for us to live in. It was our shelter for the next 13 months while we organised everything and waited for our house to be built. Notebooks became an essential item— to write messages in and make lists of things we needed to do.
The help and support from family and friends, and the response from the local and wider community, was wonderful. Lots of invisible hands supported us in so many ways as we started to rebuild. People’s thoughtfulness, kindness and giving made us humble. The effect of the fire went out like a ripple when you throw a stone into water. People everywhere were hurting and everyone was keen for us to recover from this awful disaster.
Warrumbungle Shire was supportive and assigned a staff member to be a contact to help us access information and the support that we needed. We were able to contact her at any time and nothing was too much trouble. I also visited the Coolah disaster centre on a trip into town to charge the mobile phones and devices (we had no power at that time) and I registered with several organisations that would help in the future. It was here that I spent time with Sue Freebairn from the DPI Rural Resilience Program (RRP) as she asked for information about our losses and offered her support.
The Dunedoo branch of the Country Women’s Association had organised disaster relief and supplies of clothing and food which were stockpiled in a pavilion at the Dunedoo Showground for people in need to access. Money was raised to help with fencing and so much more. Farmers and community groups from far and wide came to help with fencing, including BlazeAid who initially became involved with the fencing and then stayed for about eight months. The RFS, Lions Clubs and other service organisations also were there providing support.
We attended many information days and events organised by the DPI RRP and regular newsletters kept us informed, and phone calls and visits from folk including the Salvation Army chaplains Di and Rusty Lawson, who made us feel very cared for.
A year and a half after the fire, I had the opportunity to attend a SOFT course organised by RRP to help ladies affected by the Sir Ivan Fire. It was a chance for us to share our experiences of the fire in quieter times, to laugh and cry, and to support one another. We were asked to write down two things we hoped to get out of the course—I wrote, ‘relaxation’ and ‘a stronger me’.
I shed many tears knowing that it is healthy to cry and feel sad, but I also realise the importance of getting on with things. Unexpectedly, I did feel relaxed during the SOFT workshop and today I feel much stronger—all a part of my healing journey.
Much has been achieved since the fire. We have a new woolshed and house. The stock came home some months after the fire when the paddocks had been fenced and we have a farm again, although not like it was before as that will take time. I had a sign in my home that was destroyed in the fire, it read, ‘This home is filled with love, laughter and lots of cups of tea’. Our new home is again filled with those things.
We cannot change what has happened but we can put back together the pieces of our lives that are possible. The rest remains a memory of our past. The story that is part of our history.