30 May 2024

No help for Yowrie couple still living in shed after Black Summer bushfires

| Marion Williams
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Cathy and John Fawbert

Cathy and John Fawbert are still living in a shed after losing their home in the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

People may remember the heartbreaking story of a couple from the Cobargo area, who lost their home in the Black Summer bushfires only to then lose their lifesavings to an allegedly fraudulent Melbourne building company, Atomic 6.

Cathy and John Fawbert are still living in a shed and have no money to rebuild. At this stage there does not seem to be any consequences for the person allegedly responsible for their plight who is understood to have absconded overseas with their money.

The retired married couple are in their early 60s. They bought a rural acreage property in Yowrie, 18 km west of Cobargo, in 2000. They built a four-bedroom double-brick home where they raised most of their children. They lost their forever home in the 2019/20 bushfires along with all their possessions. They received an insurance payout from Comminsure which was less than their total loss.

Mark Stubbings, a retired lawyer who has been helping the couple, said the payout made the traumatised couple susceptible to manipulation.

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The Fawberts were not the only ones in the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla shires who were promised a quickly delivered, fire-resistant home with superior fittings. Mr Stubbings said around 20 households were taken in by the promise of prefabricated homes that were to be built in Melbourne and transported to Far South Coast properties for connection to services.

The Fawberts received a regular stream of emails updating them on ‘progress’ of their home with photos of milestones reportedly achieved. Atomic 6 was held up as a success story by the AusIndustry’s Entrepreneurs’ Program, a grants program delivered by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and Australian Industry Group.

Cathy and John Fawbert's four-bedroom, double-brick home in Yowrie was destroyed by the Black Summer bushfires

Cathy and John Fawbert’s four-bedroom, double-brick home in Yowrie was destroyed by the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Supplied.

The Fawberts entered a contract with Atomic 6 in December 2020. They had very little to show for payments exceeding $300,000 when in late November 2021 Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) told them that a stop work order had been placed on all properties in the shire connected with Atomic 6.

On July 12, 2023, Atomic 6 Pty Limited was wound up by the Supreme Court of Victoria. The liquidator advised there was little chance creditors would receive anything. The Department of Fair Trading commenced proceedings against Andrew Lennox in late 2023 relating to his alleged misconduct as a director of Atomic 6. In April 2024 Bega Local Court issued a warrant for his arrest due to non-appearance in court.

Because they were insured and received an insurance payout, the Fawberts could not qualify for any government grants that may have been available to others. With the support of Eden-Monaro MP Kristy McBain, Member for Bega Dr Michael Holland and Parliamentary Secretary for Disaster Recovery Janelle Saffin they tried to obtain some form of victim or ex-gratia compensation from the Federal or NSW governments. Their attempts were unsuccessful.

As a result of their experiences, the Fawberts continue to live in a shed on their property almost four and a half years after the bushfires. They have power, water and a roof but it is all in two simple “rooms”. Too wet for effective pest control, they have had multiple rat plagues as well as issues with mice, spiders and snakes.

The living conditions continue to affect the lives of John and Cathy Fawbert

The living conditions continue to affect the lives of John and Cathy Fawbert, including their physical and mental wellbeing and relationships with friends and neighbours. Photo: Supplied.

The living conditions are affecting their entire lives including physical and mental wellbeing. Mrs Fawbert has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder while the damp and cold aggravate her arthritis. Neither of them trust people anymore and their relationships with friends and neighbours have been damaged.

Mr Stubbings said the Fawberts had shown “remarkable resilience” after their experience with Atomic 6. With assistance from various supporters including BVSC, Anglicare, The Steel Framing Company and Michael Rozdal of Clarke Law, they have redesigned their home to better suit their special needs and be bushfire resilient and obtained council approval.

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With Mr Fawbert’s background as a sheet metal worker, they plan to owner-build when they can raise the necessary funds of $788,000. That sum would recover their losses, pay for the rebuild of a modest home and restore their financial position to what it was before the bushfires.

They are at the end of their working lives and given their age no one will lend them money.

Mr Stubbings is helping them to find other sources of potential funding. These include private philanthropic groups, or tradespeople and building companies to help them rebuild.

“Cathy and John are remarkable people who deserve a helping hand,” Mr Stubbings said. “It is a shame that in a country as wealthy as Australia that helping hand can’t come from government but we are hopeful that their story resonates with either a private grant provider or companies in the building trade who can help get their lives back on track.”

If you’re looking to support the Fawberts, head to their GoFundMe page.

Original Article published by Marion Williams on About Regional.

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