Music's powerful therapy
The small community of Quaama rang out with the sound of music and the drilling of nest boxes as people came together at the Quaama Hall for a market day on Sunday, November 15. Outside there were plants for sale, fresh eggs and hand-made trinkets.
Inside the hall the racks of clothing, for those who had lost everything, were pushed to the walls. Tables and suitably distanced chairs occupied half the remaining space with paints, paper and craft materials available for anyone to use.
In the other half of the remaining space were members of the Sapphire Coast Community Jazz Band including Veronica Abbott who has tirelessly organised and run the bushfire recovery centre from the hall.
Gradually people arrived, feet tapping, hands clapping and then a few got up and started dancing. The smiles speak to the enormous capacity of the human spirit and to the resilience of a small community that lost so much.
Veronica, who plays the sax, said it was good to just think about the music and not about anything else.
Out in the grounds Murray Pope was selling some amazing plants; hydrangeas and fuchsias were being snapped up. The 82-year-old who was celebrating his birthday on Sunday said he had lost eight shade houses in the fires.
"I just like propagating; I just make enough to buy dirt, proper potting mix, it's getting more expensive you know and it takes me fishing," Murray said when asked whether he ran a nursery.
"We lost three sheds and 12 tonne of fire wood in the fires," Murray said. He, his wife, their daughter and son-in-law, also came close to losing their lives.
Murray said they received a call in the early hours of the morning to evacuate to McLeod Hill but then it was changed to Cobargo.
"We got trapped at our son-in-law's place near Cobargo with fire all round us. We were in the car; we had to let it go over us. The fire melted the tail lights of my car," Murray said.
"I asked myself is this the way that I'm going. I'd rather be going with a chain saw or a fishing rod in my hand."
I asked myself is this the way that I'm going. I'd rather be going with a chain saw or a fishing rod in my hand.Murray Pope
He was proud to say there had been no panic from anyone of the four involved.
Murray said it was the first time he had spoken about the bushfire.
"D'you know it was 11 days before anyone came near us," he said.
But what really upsets him is the loss of the possums that he and his wife used to feed by hand.
Building a home for a native animal
Nearby people were learning how to put together nesting boxes for micro bats and feather-tailed gliders. So much habitat has been lost and many are concerned that nesting places are no longer available.
Don Firth has been busy organising nesting boxes and demonstrating how they are put together. The easy construction draws everyone in and soon, the noise of multiple drills fills the air, even from those who may never have handled a drill before. Don explains that the micro bat boxes can go around the house but the glider boxes should be 4m high on a native tree, ideally with a little bark tacked to two sides.
Don has another job making work benches equipped with a vice for people who lost their sheds.
He has been helped by Phil Parker who came south from Brisbane.
"I've been here nine months as a volunteer, working with Don. I spoke with Veronica and she said a lot had been asking about nesting boxes; so for the last three months I've been building them with the community," Phil said.
Ange McKechnie lost everything in Cobargo but she was helping to put together nesting boxes with Alison Brindle of Akolele who has a large property where they could be used.
Outreach pantry pulls in
In a separate area, next to the kitchen, Peter Buggy and Christine Welsh have set the Sapphire Community Pantry which now has an outreach service once a month to Bemboka and Quaama. They started heading to Quaama in August.
"It's more a service for people who can't get out," Christine said.
As well as fruit, vegetables and grocery items, they also have frozen meals. Supplied by Too Good, in Sydney, the meals are prepared under the guidance of celebrity chefs with community members.
"Every six weeks they come down and bring about 600 meals. We offer to pay but they never take it," Christine said.