Character Care | From the Gong, to the Bay, to the Harbor: A Bush Fire Recovery Effort – Part 3/3
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From the Gong, to the Bay, to the Harbor: A Bush Fire Recovery Effort – Part 3/3

From the Gong, to the Bay, to the Harbor: A Bush Fire Recovery Effort – Part 3/3

Matthew Bates

In late 2019 and into early 2020, hundreds, if not thousands of fires had broken out across Australia. At the time of this blog, fires are still burning across the nation with areas in New South Wales facing more fires and weather to come. Character Care, in partnership with LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell, visited fire affected areas. In September 2019 we sent two therapists to Stanthorpe Qld and we have now just returned from rural NSW to provide therapeutic support to the local communities in affected areas. We were equipped with an RV to provide a space for people to chat about anything they felt might be helpful in the next stage of their recovery. We were mobile and self-sustaining, so we did not create any extra load on the communities. Tarini (counsellor) headed from Brisbane to meet with Matt (counsellor) later in the week. Matt started in Sydney and headed south-west in a loop back to Sydney. The intention of this blog is to share the stories of the journey and provide a different view of what is happening in these areas…

The Bay to the Harbor… 

After we had seen the emergency alert increase above “watch and act,” I was instructed to head straight to Sydney and logistics will be sorted from there. My drive from Bateman’s Bay was surreal at times. At one point, a lit ember flew over the front of the windscreen! The wind was so strong it made the RV fish tail for a moment on a few different occasions! I had the sudden thought “this has gotten serious real quick!” Keeping me diligent was the sight of the ocean to my right for most of the drive. On my way out of town and for roughly 2 hours, fire truck after fire truck, maybe 30-40, were headed where I left. I reflected on this as perhaps the fire fighters had finally had some relief from all this to then be called upon again! The heroes of this tragedy, truly are those fighting the fires on the front line. Battling these blazes to save homes and lives at the expense of their own safety, what legends! I don’t think I saw clear skies until I was in the suburbs of Sydney. Smoke had filled the sky accompanied by orange and red…

Once the conditions had eased a little, I stopped for a moment to rest and revive. At this moment I called my friend, Hanky, in Sydney to see if there was some space to set up shop for the evening, which in Newtown, the streets are narrow and crowded. Hanky was desperately trying to find somewhere in the urban life of Sydney to park an RV overnight. Hanky’s boss offered to keep the van in their loading dock in the Rocks, but driving in Sydney traffic and difficult streets was a last resort. Hanky found a caravan park in Woronora where they were happy to put me up for free, as they wanted to assist with the bush fire crisis any way they could. It was a heart felt moment when I met them as they were grateful for our service and felt helpless in Sydney, staying clear of threat themselves. (A common feeling I have heard witness to in these past months, feeling helpless from a far and trying to help anyway possible). I was able to settle in for the evening, safe and sound. I can’t imagine where I may have ended up without the support of these people! A caravan park family, Hanky’s boss (whom never met me), the team at Lifeworks, and Hanky, who dropped everything to make sure I was safe and had somewhere to go. I certainly felt the care and support, which I am grateful for everything these people did for me within a few hours! Thank you…

The next morning, I reflected on the previous 24 hours which came with a flow of emotion. All the people I was fortunate to work with over the week had experienced an event like we have not seen in this country. On a micro scale, perhaps yes, some had experienced a natural disaster similar to the extent of evacuations and being on constant high alert. On the larger scale, Australia has been challenged by this event, yet we have seen remarkable human kindness, companionship and community, both nationally and around the globe. In my small experience of being close to threat, I was greeted with generosity and compassion. The emotions and thoughts made me appreciate our culture, our people and our kindness. Every day in the profession of counsellor we hear problematic stories, commonly consisting of interpersonal indifference. My learning and hopes of sharing: can we somehow use our efforts in crisis to learn how to be like this every day? Not to say this doesn’t exist in our world, because it sure does! But what would you do in crisis? How would you treat your fellow human? Can we do this every day? Make an effort to connect with another human each day? Offer kindness, charity, shelter, service, help, love, care and everything in between? Who knows what is coming our way as far as nature is concerned, but we all have a choice to be a part of humankind… what will you choose?

*thank you to those who utilized the service and shared their stories and experiences with us. We hope we provided a service that helped in whatever way possible, even if only a small step forward through the ashes of this crisis. My thoughts and wishes are with those who have lost during this event, please take care, and a moment here and there for yourself…

**thank you to everyone who helped me along the way, your kindness has inspired me in valuable ways! Stay awesome!

BIG UPS to the team at LifeWorks by Morneau Shepell for taking care us throughout the week

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