This week on Four Corners, Stephanie March reports on “Hard Winter,” the long road to recovery after Australia’s Black Summer bushfires.
“80 per cent of our population have lost something, whether it’s their home, their shed, their vehicles, their stock…I think we’ve lost our innocence as well.” Local relief co-ordinator
During the dark and suffocating days of our Black Summer, fires tore through vast parts of Australia. The destruction was savage. Six months on, despite all the millions in donations raised and the promises of government assistance, some are still living in terrible conditions without power or water and they fear they have been forgotten.
“Day to day, it’s just so hard. If you get up in the morning and it’s four degrees. It’s bloody cold. So, you’ve got to get water, you’ve got to feed the animals. You try and keep warm…I don’t know how we do it, honestly.” Farmer
In the South East of NSW, tiny communities, like the township of Cobargo saw their houses, farms and even the main street go up in flames.
“We needed help from whoever we could get help from. We were smashed.” Local farmer
The smoke was still thick in the air when Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Cobargo to see what was left. Angry scenes of survivors confronting the Prime Minister turned the visit into one of the most politically charged moments of the crisis.”
“I hadn’t slept. I’d fought fires, I still had ash all through my hair, bits of melted plastic… I was enraged. As you can probably see from the footage.” Local resident
For some that frustration is still raw. Recovery is a deeply complex and gruelling process. Knowing how to navigate it is hard. Local volunteers have stepped in to effectively run the recovery effort.
“Without sounding soppy about it, we want to help people… we really feel it’s important that we stay the distance…we’re here for the long haul.” Co-director, relief centre
On any given day, volunteers can be found co-ordinating the delivery of water tanks, helping farmers negotiate complex grant requests or taking food and clothing to those living far from town. The challenges are immense, but their commitment is inspiring.
“It’s my way of giving back to Cobargo, and my way of saying thank you for everything that you’ve been doing for us. Not just me either, it’s other people in the area, and it’s nice to be able to meet them as well.” Volunteer
What shines through is the deep respect they have for those in need of help.
“These are people who’ve worked for everything that they have had and haven’t had to ask for help before. They’re very independent, resilient people and hard working Australians up until now…then to have it all taken from you in a blink of an eye, it’s quite reducing, I guess, to how a person feels about themselves.” Co-director, relief centre
In this powerful Four Corners, a portrait of a proud community emerges and they have a message for Australia.
“Don’t forget about us. We’re still struggling. It’s going to take a very, very, very long time for the bushfire affected people and countryside and villages, and economies to recover… just be with us, work with us, stay with us.” Volunteer relief co-ordinator
Monday 6th July at 8.30pm on ABC.