Judith & Paul’s Bushfire Recovery

December is usually a time when family, friends, and loved ones gather in cheer and celebration. Our friends up north bundle up in heavy coats, shovel snow, and trim a Christmas tree. But in Australia, it’s summertime with sweltering temperatures, blazing sun, and trips to the beach as songs of snowflakes, sleigh rides, and Santa coming down the chimney blast from the radio. Summer also means the middle of bushfire season. The deadliest time.

Just after 11 am on Thursday, December 19, Judith was in her lush garden, picking vegetables to prepare lunch as Paul tended the farm. It was just a typical summer day. Smoke hung in the air all morning from nearby fires, but so far had stayed well clear of the area.

Suddenly, though, the smoke turned pink. It turned angry.

Judith raced back to the house to find Paul, but he wasn’t there. Finding him down by the sheds, she yelled, “there’s fire behind the smoke!” Paul raced to the top of the driveway, finding flames covering the street and closing fast. The Green Wattle Creek bushfire arrived at the doorstep of the Earthkeepers Sustainable Farm.

They didn’t have time to collect their pets, tend their animals, or collect their belongings. With only minutes to escape, Judith grabbed their photo albums and a few documents as Paul gathered their computers. They jumped in the car and sped out. “Run!” Judith screamed to the animals through the car window, “Run for your lives!”

The fire soon raced through the farm, taking everything with it. This Christmas season would be memorable, but not joyous. When they were finally able to return a few days later, they could barely recognise their property.

In the end, Judith and Paul lost over 63% of the 6,423 unique plants, trees, herbs, fruits, and vegetables they had imported and cultivated for over four decades. All but one of their animals perished. Their house, sheds, tools, and equipment all burned. The bushfires reduced everything they had, everything they had built, their entire livelihoods to ash.

A volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Australia’s Bushfire Recovery program helps clear burned debris from the farm.

But not long after, life started budding anew at the farm. Plants sprouted new leaves, trees blackened by fire began showing specks of green through the charred bark, and birds returned to the trees. The Australian landscape ushered in the start of the recovery process.

Judith looks over their new berry shed.

Many never recover from such a devastating loss; it is just too much to bear. Too overwhelming, too many memories, too much pain.

But where there is pain, charities such as Habitat for Humanity Australia and their Bushfire Recovery Program offer relief. At the farm, volunteers pitched in to clear debris, build chicken shacks, and help bring the gardens back to life, all with big smiles on their faces. They may have only provided a few days of work – a drop in the bucket in the recovery process – but like the trees budding, they were the next step in the journey.

Though Judith and Paul have to start over, they radiate a positive spirit. Even while rebuilding their own lives, they make time to help their neighbours in their time of need. They lend a hand, share resources, and trade goods, bringing sustainability from the farm to friends.

Judith tends to young herbs in her newly rebuilt garden.
Judith shows Tom from Habitat for Humanity Australia different herbs in one of the gardens.

Judith and Paul are determined to rebuild, not as before, but as something new. Transformed, just like the landscape itself.

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