We are Australian
Sydney Wildlife Rescue
In early January, Duffys Forest’s own Sydney Wildlife deployed its new mobile care unit to assist the innumerable wildlife impacted by the bushfires on the South Coast and Blue Mountains.
What faced the six veterinarians and three rescuers upon arriving at the fire front was a bleak scene, littered with desperate and injured animals in need of help.
“As animal lovers, seeing the unfathomable suffering of any animal is hard to comprehend and the need to help became overwhelmingly strong for the vets as well as our rescuers,” says Lynleigh Greig, operator of the mobile care unit.
She says the impact of the bushfires on Australia’s diverse wildlife has been catastrophic.
“Everything within the food chain has been affected by the fires. It will take months, even years for these fire-ravaged areas to recover,” Lynleigh says.
“Animals that managed to flee from the flames were displaced and disorientated, left without food and water.
“Those that we have brought into care will be unable to be returned to their site of rescue as their habitat will not yet have recovered.”
The Pittwater community has been incredible, with locals and businesses coordinating and delivering water stations, food for the animals, knitted pouches for joeys, medical equipment and medication.
For Pittwater local and vice president of Avalon Beach Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC), Louise Lindop, witnessing the extent of the bushfires’ devastation made it impossible not to act.
With the support of the club, Louise began collecting donations to distribute to some of the worst affected communities, including Nelligen, Cobargo, Mossy Point, Bimbimbie and Batemans Bay.
As her posts about the drive on Avalon SLSC’s Facebook page went viral, a wealth of donations and offers to volunteer came pouring in.
“The fact that the donations drive went gangbusters, I think, is indicative that the entire Northern Beaches community felt the same way.”
“It became, very much, a community effort, rather than a club effort,” she says.
In the end, Louise estimates more than 250 volunteers from the local community were able to help deliver close to 360 cubic metres of goods, four generators, 64,000 litres of water, furniture, white goods and a fully equipped tools trailer to the South Coast communities.
Thirty locals volunteered their time and petrol to drive 23 loads directly into these town, an effort, she says, that touched the hearts of the fire-ravaged communities.
“They’re just gobsmacked to realise that there was a whole bunch of people five hours up north that were actively doing things to help them,” Louise says.
Terrey Hills local Brett Wilson was incredibly saddened to hear many of his aunt’s neighbours in Northern NSW had lost their properties in the bushfires.
“I was thinking about our conversation and noticed there was a caravan just sitting at the bottom of our street. I thought, ‘Imagine getting that caravan to someone that really needed it’.”
What started off as a simple idea has blossomed into a large-scale initiative, with 1,050 people, many of whom are Pittwater locals, now a part of the Caravans4Bushfires Facebook community.
The initiative has adopted a small, fire-affected town named Quaama, just outside of Bega, and is lining up caravans from across the state to be delivered to those that have lost their homes.
“The idea of a van was something that could make an impact straight away,” Brett explains.
“Money, food and clothes and things are all great, but if you don’t have the ability to get back into the community or on to your property then it takes so much longer to get back on track.”
He says the Pittwater community has been instrumental in getting the initiative off the ground, with locals donating caravans, food, cooking utensils, clothes and toys along with their building skills and time.
“I think the first gentleman we provided a van to probably summed it up. He said, ‘This might be the first positive thing that has happened to me. It might be the thing that makes me rise back up to where I need to be’,” Brett says.
Terrey Hills Rural Fire Service
It was 5am on a stiflingly hot New Year’s Eve when members of the Terrey Hills Rural Fire Service were deployed to Bateman’s Bay.
What faced them was a blackened sky lit with flashes of red from a ferocious, kilometres-long fire front.
Matthew Aikins, a firefighter with Terrey Hills brigade for seven years, says the destruction was beyond anything he’d previously experienced.
“As a firefighter, it’s our gut instinct to go and put out property… Unfortunately, we had to make the horrific decision to leave what was currently burning and defend what hadn’t started burning yet.
“It just goes against all your training, and that’s what really messed with a lot of people’s minds.”
The crew, supported by other Northern Beaches and South Coast firefighters, battled the merciless blaze for more than 12 hours non-stop.
Then, at 5.30pm, the news hit that the Princes Highway had to be closed, and the team was stranded at Bateman’s Bay RFS station. It wasn’t long before all landline, mobile and internet communications were lost too.
“At that point, you almost go into a muscle memory thing with all the training you’ve got,” Matt says.
“It’s not until you think about it a day or so later that you think, ‘Oh, that was a scary situation’.”
Scarier still for the relatives of the firefighters left behind in Sydney.
“It’s completely understandable when family and friends get worried,” Matt says.
“You need to understand that most RFS brigades, especially around Pittwater, train week in, week out for something like this to happen."