The piles of tin, twisted metal, broken glass and burnt debris are a constant reminder of the unforgettable summer for landholders in the region whose properties are still being cleaned up by contractors employed by the NSW Government.
The containment lines dozed by heavy machinery during the summer’s devastating bushfires are also a reminder of a path less travelled these days.
Unlicensed tradespeople have offered cheap, quick, cash-only repairs to remove hazardous materials, including asbestos, to unscrupulous landholders, but only licensed employees of the firm Laing O’Rourke can complete the work in close consultation with landowners.
The NSW Government expects most residential properties will be cleared by the middle of this year.
Angela Hunter and Jake Annetts own ‘Dog Leg Farm’, west of Braidwood. Their house was the first to succumb to the North Black Range fire on 30 November. Although Ange described their home as a tin shack that was their temporary living quarters until they built their home, she told Region Media there were lots of mixed emotions as she and Jake farewelled licensed contractors for the last time this week.
Their sentiments are similar to many landowners in the region who have tried to move on from the bushfires amid the additional isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m glad to see it all gone so I don’t have to look at it anymore, but it feels so final. It’s a bit like burying a loved one. It’ll be good to be able to move on as we’ve got plans for the site once it’s cleared so watch this space,” Ange says.
Ange and Jake lost their house, trees, a new veggie patch and countless possessions, but thankfully their animals and big workshop were okay when they, like many, stayed and worked with firefighters to save their 10.9-hectare farm and wildlife sanctuary on Bombay Road.
“I haven’t coped with it as well as Jake has. He just looks at it all like a big archeological dig and will bring back pieces of twisted metal, so he’s a bit matter-of-fact about it, while I just kind of walk past it all and ignore it,” Ange says.
“It’s been hard to move on and I don’t feel like I can really move on until it’s all taken away and I can grieve it properly and we can start afresh.”
Ange and Jake will rebuild, but not in the same spot.
“We’d always intended to build a proper house on the north-facing hill, but we’re doing it now. I can’t live in this shed anymore,” Ange says with a laugh.
“We’ll probably put up a pergola on the site where our old shed was burnt as the garden and grass there have come back really nicely, so we hope it will be somewhere to just relax and look at the views.”
Jake and Ange have received several donations from the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund.
As of 30 April, more than $80 million has been distributed by the Red Cross to people affected by the bushfires, with millions more being provided in grants. The couple also received the $1000 disaster recovery payment from the Federal Government; however, they were ineligible for NSW disaster relief grants after filling out more paperwork that has since become kindling.
The Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council’s bushfire recovery assistance centre in Braidwood has also helped residents navigate their way through the various bushfire support measures.
Council’s bushfire recovery coordinator Terry Campese said people who have presented at the centre or at the outreach drop-in sessions are all at differing stages in the recovery process.
“Some of the people we’ve assisted to date were impacted by fire before Christmas or over the New Year period and are already moving toward recovery. Others are still coming to terms with the loss and trauma of the fires and are only just starting to navigate their way through all of the information about what support is available to them,” Terry said.
Meanwhile, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements (Bushfire Royal Commission) is encouraging people with videos or photographs taken during the bushfires or the ongoing recovery to share them with the Commission’s 2019-20 Bushfire History Project which will form part of Australia’s historical record.
For Ange and Jake, the recovery process has been “pretty good”, helped by rainfall, the regeneration of the burnt landscape and the support from an unwavering community.
“We’ve been planting a lot more trees again and we’ve been in the garden planting garlic and all sorts of things from the seeds we’ve collected,” Ange says.
“It’s been really nice to have something positive to focus on. We’ve always been in touch with the land around us, but I’ve got a whole new respect for the Australian landscape that I never had before. It’s amazing to see it all coming back.”