On New Year’s Eve, while much of the country was tuned into the annual fireworks displays, my parents and I had front row seats to a horror show that was unfolding across the lake from our recently purchased beach house at Manyana, three hours south of Sydney on the NSW south coast.
My sons were, thankfully, safely in Sydney that week as they were working through the break and my husband was supposed to join us in Manyana after work the following evening but the roads were cut. So I was alone with my parents, both aged in their seventies.
There had been fires on the south coast for months, the roads had been closed near Manyana previously due to back-burning and spot fires, and we knew that the weather conditions on New Year’s Eve would be extreme heat and wind, but we were not prepared in any way, especially emotionally, for those fires.
These images are what captured our attention on NYE in the tiny coastal town of Manyana on the NSW South Coast. I have never seen anything like this in my life. The fire was ferocious, unpredictable, fast and we were to learn the following day that we had witnessed Conjola and Yatte Yattah burning with 2 lives and at least 90 houses lost. And we were told that Saturday would be worse and that we needed to be ready to leave as soon as was possible.
A couple of photos of #Manyana today, taken by a resident at Cunjurong Point. I can see my home in both pictures with the smoke billowing behind 😓. That would have been terrifying for those who stayed #bushfiresAustralia #SouthCoastFires #AustraliaBurning pic.twitter.com/fymkgd1FOE
— Marina Go (@marinasgo) January 4, 2020
We were unable to leave due to road closures and we were without power. The community pulled together in the most beautiful way that showcased the very best of human spirit: sharing food, sharing fuel, sharing homes and sharing the little bits of information gathered from ABC Illawarra radio and the local firies. People power swung into action whenever there was a need.
I got to really know the neighbourhood. Mark from the corner house on The Citadel had a generator and generously gave our phones a bit of charge so we could communicate with family, as well as fresh milk and potatoes. Chris and Ellie, regular Christmas and New Year week renters of the house next door, gave us a spare BBQ to use as ours was still unpacked in the garage and the electric roller door wouldn’t open due to lack of power.
A group of young men, of a generation much-maligned, didn’t hesitate to try to help when my mother’s car wouldn’t start. We discovered this on Thursday night after we were given new hope, via the radio, that we might get out the next day. We had hoped to drive the car into the exit line that had begun to snake around Curver’s Drive at the very edge of the town. Instead we had flattened the battery listening to the car radio while trying to conserve fuel, stationary. Panicked, my mother started flagging down cars as people drove around the small town late at night in an attempt to charge their phones while listening to ABC Illawarra.
Another young man drove me to the community centre at 7am for further help when her car still wouldn’t start. The community of residents and holidaymakers pulled together as one to ensure that no one would be left behind. As one man said to me before sunrise on Friday morning, as he was finally able to start the engine: “we have to work together to make sure that everyone gets home safely”.
I love this little part of the world and our home there. The people there are the very best examples of humanity. No doubt that is the case in all of those little coastal towns that have been burning for the past month. None of us would be safe without the extraordinary efforts of our local branches of the @nswrfs who worked through the night with so very little sleep and very few resources (only two fire trucks to fight this fire that made its way dangerously closer to our homes on Saturday).
Please give generously to help communities in need via The Red Cross. That’s the best thing that any of us can do to help right now. 🙏