How ‘local heroes on the back of utes’ came to the rescue of one NSW South Coast town as fires raged


“There she goes! There goes the club! Club Malua, she’s f***ing gone!”

Key points:

  • Hundreds spent the day huddled at the beach as bushfires struck the small town of Malua
  • Blake Walton was one of those who stayed behind to save the town
  • Residents have become frustrated at the lack of information about upcoming conditions

Blake Walton should have spent New Year’s Eve having a beer in the newly renovated Malua Bowls Club.

Instead he spent the day watching it burn to the ground.

The little town is just one of many devastated by bushfires which tore though the New South Wales South Coast on Tuesday.

Hundreds of residents and tourists spent the day huddled on the nearby beach — the only way to escape the flames.

But Mr Walton was one of those who stayed behind to protect properties.

“I was putting out spot fires, there were spot fires everywhere,” he said.

“There would have been three [of us] … running around like headless chooks trying to put out the spotties.

Follow our live blog for updates on bushfires and the evacuations.

“I found a good long hose and took that to the next place, and the next place, and threw it in the back of the car, I kept running around with it.

“Seeing all the wildlife was the hard part, there were birds dropping out of the sky with no wings, their feathers had been stripped off.”

Locals believe it was the actions of those who stayed behind that saved the town.


Russell and Julie Gercken said a firestorm reduced their caravan to a chassis. (ABC News: Tim Swanston)

“It was a good couple of hours before we saw anyone (firefighters), so it was left to just local heroes, on the back of utes,” said resident Sandy White.

“The trees in my yard were exploding, and it was just an ember storm, because the wind was so powerful.

“The roar of the wind, I’ll never forget that.”

Julie Gercken was on the beach when Malua started burning, and feared her property was gone when she saw black smoke rising.

While her house is still standing, her shed and most of the properties behind it have been razed.


Nothing in the Gerckens’ shed stood a chance when fire tore through it. (ABC News: Jonathan Hair)

“The firestorm just came straight up and straight across and the wind was just ferocious,” Ms Gercken said.

“We’ve had our caravan in there that’s just reduced to a chassis, we had 25 units behind us, I think that there’s only two that are OK.

“I was crying just a moment ago … but we’re alive.”

Damage assessment crews from NSW Fire and Rescue have gone through Malua street by street.


Surveying the damage at Julie Gercken’s home. (ABC News: Jonathan Hair)

They visited Ms Gercken, and recommended she get away from the area before Saturday, when conditions are again set to deteriorate.

“It’s only a house,” she said as she agreed to evacuate.

But many residents are becoming frustrated at the lack of information about what conditions will be like on the weekend.

There is no phone reception, the power is out — rumours and misinformation spreads quickly around town.

On Thursday, there was talk of looters, everyone is on alert.


Homes were lost in Malua as residents huddled at the beach. (ABC News: Tim Swanston )

Adding to frustrations, the only road into Malua has been blocked off, which has seen some residents sneaking in.

“We walked in through the bush, which is not kosher, but we’re Australians, we do stupid s***, so we walked in through the back,” local Paul Biddlestone said.

After two nights in nearby Batemans Bay, Paul and his wife Kim were eager to check on their property and prepare it for worsening conditions.

“Police were down there all day Wednesday advising people not to come in, I think people walked up through the street and came in through backyards,” Kim Biddlestone said.

“There was still stuff smouldering so the neighbours were already here putting stuff out. I got out the back and put out trees at the back of the house that looked like they could have burnt and fallen.

“It’s a matter of cleaning up now and trying to get prepared as best we can,” Mr Biddlestone added.


Paul Biddlestone said his focus was now on preparation and clean up. (ABC News: Tim Swanston )

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