Juanita Watters’ parents’ house at Cobargo survived the bushfire that almost destroyed the town on New Year’s Eve.
Juanita had travelled from her home in Canberra after the fire to help her parents, who did lose some external buildings, bushland and an arboretum they had been cultivating for the last 16 years.
“My parents’ house was hit by the Badja Forest fire in the early hours of New Year’s Eve, but luckily they had evacuated to Cobargo and then to Bermagui, and eventually from there to Canberra to dodge the fire threat,” Juanita told Region Media.
Their house survived, but when Juanita began helping with the clean-up in an outbuilding, she found an old metal trunk full of Christmas decorations.
“One of the things that struck me was their trunk of Christmas decorations. Because the trunk was metal, all of the decorations weren’t total ash like many of the other things. The decorations were intact but they were baked and blackened, and when you touched them, they fell apart.”
Juanita said the decorations had only just been packed away, so she shared some pictures of the wreckage and their decorations. One of her friends (Bianca Brownlow) suggested that they could help by remaking Christmas decorations, as they are both crafters.
“I think everyone is looking for a way to channel their sadness and stress and frustrations over the events of the summer into some kind of action,” said Juanita.
“We figured that crafters know how to create, and Bianca suggested the idea of putting a call out for people to make decorations for people who have lost theirs in the fires.”
And so the group Remake Christmas was born.
Armed with the hashtag #remakechristmas and plenty of craft items, they wrote some ideas on a napkin and began stitching and glueing together some items and posting their creations to the group now on Facebook and Instagram.
There are more than 200 people on the Facebook group, while the Instagram page is also steadily gaining momentum.
“So many of these decorations held so much meaning,” Juanita said. “There were ones that had been handed down from both mum and dad’s families. Some were the playdough and coloured pasta decorations I had made in preschool — most of the pasta had cracked off over the years, but I still loved getting these out and hanging them on the tree each year.
“Some were knitted by my late grandmother and others were collected by my parents or my sister and me on our travels to Canada, Mexico and Germany.”
Juanita said the group already has members from across Australia, as well as the United States and the United Kingdom.
“So many people in so many communities around Australia will be coming to terms with the loss of their irreplaceable possessions, including their Christmas and Diwali or Hanukkah decorations.
“They are all treasures and all irreplaceable.”
Juanita and Bianca’s plan is to work with community groups in bushfire-affected towns to distribute the gifted decorations to those who need them and would like them in time for next Christmas.
Juanita said that since there are so many people with connections to the NSW South Coast, this was a small, but a long-term way of helping communities rebuild.
“There are a lot of critical initiatives and funds focused on people’s immediate, practical recovery, but this project is more about the longer-term emotional side of recovery,” she said.
“I think everybody in the Cobargo area is still taking things day by day, but the community there has really come together in a really beautiful way.”
Juanita said the community is also sharing in the grief of what happened less than two months ago, so they will be offering the decorations in a way that leaves it up to the community to take them.
“We’ll talk to the community groups there and maybe set up a Christmas tree in the town and hang all our decorations from them and people can come and take what they like,” said Juanita.
“And whilst it’s a very small thing in the scale of this disaster, it will hopefully help people know that so many others around Australia and the world are thinking of them with love.”
You can find the Remake Christmas on Facebook or via #remakechristmas on Instagram.