Jacqui, a Senior Manager at Anglicare, shares her experience of the South Coast bushfires crisis, how the community has come together and the power a kind word and a listening ear can have.
I consider myself to be one of those lucky people who gets to live and work on the South Coast of NSW. I am blessed to live in a rural setting surrounded by the sounds, smells and sights of the Australian bush.
This Christmas and New Year, I was also surrounded by the sounds, smells and sights of bushfires! The 'dinging' of the Fires Near Me app, the sirens, water bucketing helicopters, sea planes and the large fire retardant 747 all flying overhead. The smell of smoke and burnt bush. The sight of a smoke-filled and darkening sky, falling ash and burnt leaves, the fire and flames in the distance and the chilling photos sent to me from my husband and son who had stayed to defend our home. I can now add the taste of the fires to my list as our tank water, our only water supply, looks and tastes smoky - which I'm told will not harm us!
Over the course of two weeks, my daughter and I evacuated three times, each time with her 9-month-old German Shepherd puppy (Cleo) and beloved cat. Cleo's scratch marks on my friend's sliding glass door are now very graciously viewed as 'part of the story of the house' and will be remembered as part of NYE 2019! The length of each evacuation was exacerbated by closures to the Princes Highway and other access roads. The box of family photos and important documents is still in the boot of my car!
It's been a very different Christmas leave period to say the least. I am so very thankful that while the fire came within 200m of our property, we avoided any human injury or property damage. I feel so very sad for those who experienced tragic losses. I'm thankful that we had a safe place to evacuate with friends who fed us well, kept us entertained with jigsaw puzzles and board games, and allowed us to be distracted by our phones as we sought constant updates. The 2-day power outage that followed included many candlelight conversations by night and the welcome sound of a power generator during the day.
I am thankful to all the emergency service personnel and those people who willingly put themselves in harms way to protect others. To all the volunteers who swung into action, including the amazing Anglicare Disaster Recovery teams. Thankful to friends and family who sent messages of support and were praying for us all. Thankful to the members of my Anglicare family who also reached out to me.
Returning to work on 6 January, I was greeted with hugs and a listening ear - soon to be followed with chocolates and cupcakes for all in the staff room. Everyone has their own story to tell as the entire community in the Shoalhaven was affected in one way or another. We have been listening to the stories. I'm sure it's the same for other communities in fire-affected areas. We're still a bit jumpy when that pesky Fires Near Me app starts pinging. My husband is a former Navy helicopter pilot and I used to love the sound of a helicopter overhead as it often meant he was on his way home. Now it signals something worrying and sinister and has me on guard. All going well, that trigger will diminish over time.
I'm saddened as I drive to work and traverse areas where a scarred landscape and blackened trees line the roads. But the land will heal, and this morning I saw new green shoots of grass. I'm longing to see a clear blue sky and that day will come. I'm also trying to practice being kind to myself, sometimes it's easier to be kind with others, so I'm trying to do plenty of that as well.
During this time, I have felt the closeness of the Lord. I sometimes find it difficult to follow the encouragement found in Philippians 4:6 (where we are told to not be anxious about anything but by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving, present our requests to God). I know when I truly follow that encouragement that the peace of God becomes available to me. My prayer is that God's peace is also felt by others who have been impacted. For those of you who are also praying, please know that it makes a difference. Also know that the power of being kind and providing a listening ear is a gift everyone can offer.
Jacqui, Senior Manager at Anglicare (surname withheld).