Incredible stories of survival keep coming out of the horrendous bushfire disaster, but spare a thought for those living in more isolated communities who have had to defend their houses and farms on their own.
Recently, Tarryn Henderson travelled to Gelantipy where her parents-in-law, Bill and Annemarie Henderson, live, and on to Wulgulmerang where her parents, Dick and Marg Rogers, live at Black Mountain Station, delivering donated goods.
“Everyone was so grateful,” Tarryn said. “They were super appreciative of the donations and at every place we got a big hug and a kiss and they were nearly in tears.”
She said everyone in the area knew conditions could change drastically.
“They’re all sitting on tenterhooks, there’s the Suggan Buggan fire, the Corryong fire and the one southwest of Gelantipy.
“Keep in mind they’ve all done it on their own, there were seven strike teams up there but they left as things got bad. Everyone was left to defend their homes.”
At Gelantipy, Bill and Annemarie Henderson said the bushfire, which came in from the south-west, was a horrific event to experience.
“We got through with a bit of singed hair, a sprained ankle and exhaustion,” Annemarie said.
“We still have a house so we are fortunate.
“The stock are so far okay but the fences are all stuffed and there’s no grass.”
In a terrible story, Bill travelled through flames along the road to where he had been told a ‘quick-fill’ pump was set up by Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning at a dam on the main road.
However, when he arrived for water he discovered the pump had been packed up and taken away.
He then had to fill at the Gelantipy bore, which takes much longer, anxious about leaving Annemarie to defend the hayshed, and also having to drive back through flames.
“They left us in the lurch right from the start,” Annemarie said of the strike teams.
“We had a false hope that the cavalry was coming, it’s disheartening.
“The wind was so strong, it was blowing the flames so far. “But if you want to talk heroes, Bill was unbelievable, he saved his brother’s hayshed, he helped everybody.
“It was harrowing, when you’re in it you just do what you do. Hell, if they could bottle that adrenaline!”
Driving in thick smoke means visibility is minimal and at one point the Hendersons found themselves in a corner of a paddock with flames all around.
They had no choice but to drive through and in the process the dogs on the back of the ute were singed.
The first fire was the Never Never fire from behind Seldom Seen but the next fire from Murrindal was worse.
“It was so dark and scary, we couldn’t see where it was coming from,” Annemarie said.
Fortunately the locals, including the Hendersons, Rogers, Sykes and Hodges, kept communication lines open via UHF radio.
Lame cattle are a stark reminder of the continued danger from the ever-burning fires.
On the positive side, Annemarie said they had been overwhelmed by the generosity of people from far and wide, including three men from Melbourne who drove a truck full of goods to Gelantipy. “We asked them to come back again when things aren’t so dramatic,” she said.
“They were beautiful people.”
Annmarie said incredibly after seven millimetres of rain there were already green shoots in the paddocks.
At Black Mountain, local families like the Moons, Rogers and Coopers, banded together and met in the mornings to discuss what needed to be done while the fire threat loomed large. The Moons walked their dozer about 30 kilometres from Campbell’s Knob after it was taken off fire duties, and made firebreaks along their boundary and around theirs and other houses, in preparation.
Jo Rogers went up to help with the effort and said everyone was well organised, “certainly anxious but not panicking”.
“Communication was kept up during the day via UHF radios, which was great because we all knew where everyone was at all times,” Jo said.
Jess Moon said the Suggan Buggan fire that started behind Mt Stradbroke had burnt a couple of hundred acres of their paddocks.
She said the fire that started in the Never Never Creek had burnt up to some of the country that was backburned in 2017.
“Dad (Gordon) and Nick went and had a look and said it didn’t really burn much, it was just ticking along and went out,” Jess said.
“Hopefully the department will burn today and we’ll be a bit safer.”
IMAGE: Bill, Brent and Richard Henderson survey blackened paddocks at their Gelantipy property on January 2. Kenny the dog was singed during the fires. PHOTO: Elle Henderson