It was this time last year that bushfires were impacting communities around Buchan.
It would be two more weeks before the fire eventually broke containment lines and forced its way into the township.
Many homes and structures were lost and tragically one resident lost his life after his home was engulfed in the fireball that rolled into Buchan that fateful day.
The Buchan football oval resembled a mini tent city as the towns residents fled their properties to escape the onslaught of the firestorm late in the afternoon of December 30.
Some of those who lost homes would remain camped at the oval for weeks.
Almost 12 months on, some of those residents who lost homes are still without them.
Many remain disbelieving that the process of negotiating bureaucracy and red tape in rebuilding has dragged on this long.
Some still remain traumatised by the horror of the fires and have become anxious as they attempt to deal with the madness of bureaucracy in trying to get their lives back on track.
“Many people are suffering anxiety, probably more so now than initially,” Anne Brewer, the manager of the Bush Nursing Centre in Buchan, told the Advertiser.
“People are exhausted and tired, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19 following the bushfires.”
With the anniversary of the bushfires just two weeks away, Ms Brewer said she was “significantly concerned for others”.
“The anniversary doesn’t mean a lot to me personally. There will be those who want to ignore it, others are ambivalent, while some want a celebration of renewal,” she said.
Ms Brewer says if there is an event, “it should be managed externally and have a time limit on it”.
As the manager of the bush nursing centre, Ms Brewer has seen firsthand the impact the fires have had on the community.
She believes there are many people in the community who are fragile and unaware of the toll 2020 has had on those affected.
“People are making silly mistakes and coming in for minor injuries that wouldn’t normally occur,” Ms Brewer said.
She detailed cuts and crush injuries, tripping over and the like.
“These are the sorts of things you’d expect to happen to the elderly, but they’re occurring because people are fatigued,” Ms Brewer said.
Ms Brewer and her husband, Wayne, are among those who lost their home in the fires.
When the Advertiser visited Buchan two weeks ago, the Brewers had just had the concrete stumps for their new home inserted in the ground.
“We’ve got seven more stumps to go,” Ms Brewer said with a faint smile.
“We’re expecting the floors, walls and roof to be done before Christmas. The plan is to have it to lock-up stage,” she said.
“I never thought it would take this long to rebuild.
“There was just red tape right up until our building permit came through at the end of October.”
Like many others, the Brewers were initially told they couldn’t situate the house, which overlooks the town, in the same position as before. Like others, they remained determined, dug their heels in, and eventually commonsense won the day.
“It was just ludicrous,” Ms Brewer, a no-nonsense woman, said.
“The promise is the house will be finished by April. We’ re hoping to get in before Easter.”
The Brewers have been residing in the bush nursing centre since the fires.
While Ms Brewer fled Buchan on the morning of the fires, her husband stayed behind to defend the house, but was forced to take shelter on the oval as the reality of trying to fight the fireball became evident.
“The intention was for
Wayne to defend the house from embers, not a major firefront,” Ms Brewer said.
✩ WAITING GAME CONTINUES
Margie and Jeff McCole, who lost their farmhouse at Buchan East, are also still waiting for some action in getting their house rebuilt.
While their plans have finally been approved, work is yet to begin.
The couple was enjoying a few days in Mallacoota when the Advertiser visited recently.
“Margie really needed to get away, it’ s been doing her head in,” Mr McCole said over the phone from Mallacoota.
Bob and Linda Carney, who live on farmland on the outskirts of town, are in a similar position.
The couple, who resorted to living in a horse trailer after the fires engulfed their home, have remained remarkably calm at the delays that have obstructed their plans to rebuild.
“They’re still looking for the survey pegs, they can’t find them,” Mrs Carney told the Advertiser late last week.
The Carneys lost their home after debris, that had been left on the nature strip, ignited and raced up the side of the road, inflaming their home.
The Carneys will now rebuild their three-bedroom brick and corrugated home a further nine metres down the paddock from its original position to ensure it’s well back from the roadside.
“We’ve still got a good view and we’re out of the wind,” Mrs Carney said.
The Carneys have upgraded to a large American caravan while they await the rebuild.
The pouring of the concrete for the foundations was due to take place before Christmas, but the issue of the missing survey pegs has resulted in delays.
“We don’t get excited anymore, we just go, oh yeah, whatever,” Mrs Carney said.
“They keep saying next week and I’m thinking, yeah, next year.”
✩ PUB LIFE
Buchan publican and local plumber, Greg Brick, lost his house on the Snowy River, and has been living at the pub with his wife ever since.
The Bricks have suffered the double whammy of having their business affected by COVID-19 with the pub remaining closed for much of the year.
“We did takeaways, meals and grog, during the first lockdown, opening from four to six in the afternoon, but with a population base of 100 people it just wasn’ t worth it when the second wave hit,” Mr Brick said.
“It’s only been the last week it’s been worth opening.”
While Mr Brick admits to be tired from living at the pub, he has remained resilient at negotiating the hurdles Buchan has been forced to endure.
He is one of 11 locals that have formed a committee to help Buchan in the aftermath of the bushfires.
“The aim was to try and get individuals and the community back to the same position before the fires, if not better,” Mr Brick said.
“The idea was to advance the community a bit more economically and socially.”
Mr Brick said the committee met a couple of times but the COVID lockdown “had made it bit hard” to reschedule further meetings.
“A lot of people in the town are still struggling,” he conceded.
“People are suffering anxiety and PTSD.
“We’ve had a bit of money donated ($100,000) and have tried to target people who need specific things, like water tanks and feed for farms.”
Mr Brick said with the fire season already upon Buchan once again, some residents are a little apprehensive.
“We’d be unlucky to have what happened last year occur this year,” he said.
“There’s not much left to burn.”
However, Mr Brick admits that undergrowth is coming back quickly and if something’s not done in the next two years, “we’ll be right back where we were”.
“Something needs to be done about bush management,” he said, warning that Buchan South could be a problem this year.
Mr Brick said since 2003, there had been seven fires around the Buchan community.
“I think that’s what frustrates me more than anything, you have all these government authorities and no-one will make a decision.”
✩ ACT QUICKLY
It’s a sentiment shared by the town’s CFA Captain, Peter White.
“Buchan South is still tinder dry, all we need is a lightning strike for a fire to get going,” Captain White said there “was a lot of apprehension with us back in the fire season already.”
“The grass is really long, we’re likely to have more running grass fires that are quick and fast moving.”
Captain White said at a meeting of Buchan South residents last week, concern was expressed about the roadside vegetation needing to be slashed.
“There was a lot of angst about the roadside vegetation, it is just terrible. All they’ve done (local government authorities) is just push it up into piles ready to burn,” Captain White said.
They should do what they’ve done in Sarsfield, (roadside slashing) that’s really good, they need to do that coming into Buchan.
“But instead stuff from the roadside edge has been pushed into the bush.”
The concrete footings are finally in the ground for Anne Brewer’s house to begin. K470-8123