Tag: Conjola Park

‘Free hugs go a long way’: NSW town tackles mental trauma to heal bushfire scars

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A month ago, Alisha Stoneham ran from flames into a neighbour’s dam and as she waited in the water with a blanket over her head, she wondered whether she would die there.

“You don’t let go of that emotion and the trauma of seeing that fire come over,” she said.

Alisha sat submerged in the dam with her partner Dan and dog, Ruby, for 25 minutes as immense bushfire swept through Conjola Park on the NSW South Coast.

She had only just moved to the town a few days before the New Year’s Eve bushfires, which claimed three lives and 89 homes.

All that remains at Dan and Alisha’s uninsured property is the charred shells of their much-loved cars.

“It wasn’t a proper home or anything but it was something to live in so [Dan] could build,” Ms Stoneham said.


The incinerated cars of Alisha and Dan. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

For bushfire victims in communities like Conjola Park, grief is two-pronged — there is the mourning of lost memories, but also for the future that could have been.

The dreams this young couple had have now been abruptly replaced with a web of decisions they never thought they’d be making.

“It’s still sinking in what we could have had,” Ms Stoneham said.

Destroyed houses remain taped off with asbestos warning signs and a clear clean-up plan remains to be communicated to residents.

Short-term financial help has been provided to those who lost everything but as the weeks drag on, the focus is turning to mental health.

Depression and anxiety are now part of Alisha’s life but she is determined to address her trauma early.

Just this week she booked in to see a counsellor through the Federal Government’s bushfire recovery access program, which provides up to 10 free counselling sessions.


Green starts to spurt at Conjola Park. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Free hugs a powerful antidote

At the heart of the rebuild is the volunteer-led Conjola Recovery Centre — a place of refuge where locals can drop their guard, have an honest conversation and shed a few tears.

Walking in the door, there is an immediate sense of comfort, with free hugs on offer.

Lindy Dunn, a coordinator at the centre, says looks can be deceiving and even those with the toughest exteriors have crumpled in her arms.

“It’s knowing that when someone comes in here totally upset, not coping with the paperwork, or they’re not dealing well with the trauma, our free hugs go a long way,” Ms Dunn said.


Lindy Dunn holds flowers she received from a resident who lost everything. (ABC News: Mridula Amin)

She herself broke down crying at one point … not from the exhaustion of helping to rebuild lives, but a simple moment of generosity.

A woman she had helped source the bare essentials after losing her home came in and dropped her flowers.

“She has no money. She didn’t need to do that.”

It is the beautiful moments like these that help create the armour of resilience for the volunteers.

“I’ve got to say the beautiful generosity from young Australians has probably renewed my faith in that Australia’s going to be fine,” Ms Dunn said.

A few weeks ago a university student from Sydney walked into the centre with three bar fridges and bags of power boards in tow.

“He said, I thought these might be handy. I said, ‘they’d be fantastic’,” Ms Dunn said.

When she learnt what the young man had given up to buy the fridges, she was overwhelmed.

“He told me he’d saved up to go on holiday in Bali but then thought, ‘how could I go on holiday while other people suffer’.”

“He was just a uni student. That was just gorgeous.”

For locals like Ms Dunn, it’s the small gestures and triumphs, like tourists beginning to return to Lake Conjola, that give a glimpse of a new beginning for this community.

Road to Recovery: How can I help?You can use the following links to search for local accommodation, businesses and other services, or to donate to local appeals:

Please note the ABC does not endorse nor guarantee any services listed via these links, which are provided as a public service.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

‘The number of lives lost will climb’: Seven dead, 176 homes destroyed in NSW bushfires

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Seven people have died and 176 homes have been destroyed by devastating bushfires that hit southern New South Wales on Wednesday.

Key points:

  • Death toll expected to rise as number of people killed reaches seven
  • RFS says 176 homes have been destroyed with 89 homes lost in Conjola Park
  • Karen Lissa thought she was going to die when a bushfire swept through her street

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) confirmed that three more bodies had been found after the earlier deaths of four people.

On Wednesday, the bodies of a father and son were found in Cobargo — it is believed they died while trying to defend their property.

The body of a man was found in a burnt-out car on a road off the Princes Highway at Yatte Yattah near Lake Conjola.

Volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, 28, died after his truck flipped in the Green Valley blaze in Jingellic, 70 kilometres east of Albury near the NSW-Victoria border.


The remains of a home at Conjola Park after a bushfire swept through on New Year’s Eve. (ABC News: Selby Stewart)

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Worboys on Wednesday said three more bodies were found at Lake Conjola.

“Sadly, we can report today that police have confirmed a further three deaths as a result of the fires on the South Coast,” Deputy Commissioner Worboys said.

“Police are also at Lake Conjola now, where a house has been destroyed by fire and the occupant of that home is still unaccounted for. This goes on the back of the four deaths reported yesterday.”

A 70-year-old man was found dead outside a home 6km west of Lake Conjola.

The body of a man was found in a vehicle in Sussex Inlet this morning while a body was found outside a home at Coolagolite.

Meanwhile, a 72-year-old man remains unaccounted for at Belowra, about 50km north west of Cobargo, and a 70-year-old woman remains unaccounted for at Conjola Park.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he expected the death toll to rise this afternoon.

“The preliminary advice is that we will, sadly, see the number of people, the number of lives lost, that will climb this afternoon,” Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.

The RFS also confirmed at least 176 homes had been destroyed.

More bushfire coverage:

Some of the worst loses were suffered in Conjola Park, where 89 homes were destroyed, and Malua Bay, where 40 homes were lost.

Deputy RFS Commissioner Rob Rogers said that total was “by no means the end”.

‘You just got through all these emotions’

Video: Karen Lissa describes the moment a bushfire swept through her street

(ABC News)

Lake Conjola resident Karen Lissa said she thought she was going to die when a bushfire swept through her street.

“You just go through all these emotions,” she said.

“You think ‘I’m gonna die’.

“We’re lucky. Just really grateful that we’re alive and we’ve got our house.

“I’ve never seen this. So many homes lost, this is devastating.”

Some residents were not as lucky, as towns ravaged by bushfires were left “unrecognisable” and thousands of NSW South Coast residents and travellers remained anxious as authorities began a stocktake of Wednesday’s devastation.

Helen Dwyer said there was hardly any time to react as her retirement home was destroyed.

“We didn’t have time to pack anything. We probably weren’t as well prepared as we should have been … it was just so ferocious and quick,” she said.

“We sat down at the lake most of the day, and came back up in the evening and can’t believe how many, in our street, all the houses that’ve gone.”

Karen Freer from Canberra remained stranded in Batehaven, just outside Batemans Bay.

Her phone battery had died and like many across the coastal towns, she was anxious about what would happen next.

“There’s no internet, we cannot access the RFS website and I know everyone is doing their absolute best, but we have no information,” Ms Freer said.

“We don’t know where the fire is … we just don’t know the current situation.”


Evacuees on a beach at Batemans Bay amid the bushfire threat. (Twitter: Alastairprior)

Federal MP Fiona Phillips said the scale of destruction in the Batemans Bay area had been enormous.

“It’s just been absolute devastation,” she said.

“The building loss we believe around the Batemans Bay area and Mogo is in the hundreds. It’s very, very significant.

“The industrial area at Batemans Bay has certainly suffered significant damage and the Mogo CBD is unrecognisable.”


A woman stares at the ruins of her home at Conjola Park. (ABC News)

Commissioner Fitzsimmons said it was too early to determine the extent of the damage, but “was aware of heavy tolls in terms of damage and destruction”.

Video: Fire crews from Station 509 Wyoming share footage of moments before their truck was overrun by a fire front south of Nowra

(ABC News)

Residents forced to flee to the beach

Also particularly hit was Conjola Park, north of Ulladulla, where early assessments showed more than 50 properties were completely razed.

The Currowan bushfire ripped through the region on New Year’s Eve, forcing many residents to flee to the beach.


A Batemans Bay home which was ravaged by fire on New Year’s Eve. (ABC News)

Dozens of cars in the Lake Conjola area, north of Ulladulla, were also seen by an ABC reporter to be destroyed in the region.

He said cars were found melted in the street and paint from vehicles was draining down the road.

Large trees were seen fallen across roads in the town and powerlines were down.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it had been “a very horrible day for NSW in terms of the fire conditions”.


The ruins of a house destroyed by fire in Batemans Bay. (ABC News)

She said fire crews would be taking advantage of easing weather conditions to conduct backburning and restored power to critical infrastructure.

More than 100 fires were burning in the state this morning, seven of those at watch and act level.

On Tuesday, residents south of Nowra were warned they could be without power or telecommunications for two days.

“We ask people not to worry if they can’t contact their loved ones or friends,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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