Sydney had its fireworks while Conjola Park went up in flames
Nurse Jennifer McKnight shares her story of being caught in the recent South Coast bushfires on New Year’s Eve.
On 31 December 2019, our home, along with 88 other households in Conjola Park, was razed by fire. Other areas close by; Yatte Yattah, Little Forest and Conjola, endured the same catastrophe.
While Sydney had their fireworks, we had flames for New Year’s Eve.
Despite incredible support from my family, friends, colleagues, local charities and businesses, the pain of losing everything you have toiled for, or losing cherished photos and family heirlooms, seems to grow each day.
I am finding it difficult to be philosophical about what happened that day to my partner and I. Indeed it has been an all too familiar story for so many Australians. The only warning we received that day, was one message: “Take shelter as fire approaches”.
Help finally came in the form of two exhausted RFS crews and two RFS trucks, with empty tanks due to fighting fires before Conjola Park. Nearly all resources were sent earlier in the day to the Bateman’s Bay area, leaving our area with hardly any resources. The driver of one truck told me, as I made my way to the edge of Conjola Lake, “many houses in the area will burn today”.
On the edge of the lake, I witnessed the very best of human nature and kindness. Residents, previously unknown to each other, offered support, shelter, toilets, food and water as well as putting out fires where possible.
All around us flames were leaping into the air from trees, houses and grass.
Then, the dreadful noise from exploding gas bottles and roofs and trees crashing down.
We expected to be helped that day in the form of warnings, aerial support and firefighters on the ground. Instead we were left to fend for ourselves, as well as pulling elderly neighbours from their threatened homes.
The cost of these events will be far greater than the cost of a properly equipped and resourced firefighting service. RFS crews should also be paid. We need far more aerial support; planes with retardant and Elvis helicopters.
I am very grateful to the volunteers of organisations and charities who have helped us. Though this seems to be a very ad hoc and confusing method of helping, especially when you’re feeling exhausted and vulnerable. There really needs to be a more centralised system from charities and government for disaster relief.
The federal and state governments were too arrogant to listen to fire safety experts and climate change experts. They need to be made accountable for their inaction. We all pay taxes, some of which you would think would be for the “privilege” of protection from fires. How can you put a price on all this misery that has been created? How do you replace the loss of environment and wildlife?
My very best thoughts and wishes go out to anyone who has experienced a loss due to these fires.
I would also like to thank the NSWNMA very much, for their support and generosity.