Fran’s Bushfire Recovery

The foundation and a few tiles are all that remain of Fran’s home after the devastating 2019 Mount Wilson bushfire.

Since her birth in 1937, Fran has lived through 9 major bushfire events. From flat farmlands to hillside forests, Fran has lived through a wide range of fire experiences.

Her first encounter was at six months old. As the fire raged towards the family farm, her mother had to leave the stroller behind and carry Fran away because of the hot ash and embers raining down around them.

This time, she and her neighbours were all watching and waiting for the 2019 Gospers Mountain fire to come in from the Northwest. They worried it would sneak up behind them and they’d quickly be in trouble. No one expected that the Mount Wilson fire would instead jump the road and tear up the gulley straight at them.

What Fran and her neighbours saw coming towards them was a solid red wall. Flames. Smoke. Embers. It moved so quickly and ferociously; they had little time to react. Wasting no time, she evacuated early, leaving before most of her neighbours.

Fran on her farm in August 2020.

Music has always been an integral part of Fran’s life. She was a music teacher for most of her professional life; bringing her joy of music to her students through the piano, cello, guitar, and flute.

But, after a while, she longed for more. To try something new, to push herself out of her comfort zone, shake things up. Fran ended up back at university, graduating again with a degree in botany, skills that are extremely valuable on a farm. Though she never lost her love of music. After a long day of work on the farm, most people would relax with Netflix and a beer. Fran would play her piano, making music for hours on end.

A week later, she was allowed to return to her little farm. Every power pole she passed had burnt down. The lines over the railway were destroyed. The entire region was utterly devastated.

Bushfires stripped the trees bare and killed untold numbers of wildlife. Now, the forest is starting to recover and birds are beginning to return.

Her house, sheds, grow houses, and all of her fruit trees, vegetables, and flowering plants. Everything she had built by hand, year after year, was blackened and turned to ash. Fran had lost everything.

But, her biggest loss wasn’t the house nor her farm; it was her instruments and music sheets. The simple things that brought her the most joy were taken away in an instant.

All of Fran’s grow houses were destroyed in the fire, but life and structures are beginning to return to the property.

Many bushfire victims never recover from such a loss. They leave, never to return. They have to rebuild someone else, the painful memories too much to bear. Fran, though, is wired a little different. A bit more spunky. She’s lived through so many fires; this one wasn’t going to chase her away.

One of the first things she bought was a small camper to live in while she started to rebuild. While the property didn’t look the same, just being there instantly lowered her stress. (Most of which came from dealing with the local council and insurance bureaucracies.)

Fran jumped right in to work with volunteers with Habitat for Humanity Australia’s Bushfire Recovery Program.

Each day she lines up some jobs to do, slowly working her way through her list. When one job gets too taxing, she moves on to something a little easier. The next day, she starts where she left off. From sun up to sundown, she’s out there working.

Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity Australia’s Bushfire Recovery Program help Fran restore her property by grading hills and covering them with mulch to prevent erosion.

With the help of NGOs like Habitat for Humanity and their Bushfire Recovery Program, Fran is making great strides in bringing her property back. Volunteers from across the Sydney area came together to regrade land, spread mulch to prevent erosion, clear debris, and help restore the farm. While the crew from Habitat finished late in the afternoon, Fran kept working into the evening. Her determination, stamina, and drive are the envy of all who meet Fran.

Fran clears debris from her fire raved property.

Her fruit trees are beginning to come back to life, vegetables, flowers, and plants have been replanted and are thriving. Soon, Fran’s fruit salads will once again be filled with apples, peaches, plums, and apricots. Her views of the valley below are all turning green once again.

Fran’s spirit wasn’t broken through this devastating fire season. Instead, it’s made stronger by neighbours helping neighbours and volunteers giving freely of their time and resources. It will take time for life to return to normal, but Fran is charging ahead one job at a time.

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