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Bushfire aftermath: locals still living in burnt or temporary houses

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Almost one year on from the devastating bushfires that engulfed parts of Australia, locals from this small town are only just beginning to receive help to repair damage to property and move on with their lives.

Preview above: Insight brought together volunteer firies from around Australia to find out what toll the summer bushfires took on them. Full ep. on SBS On Demand. 

Siobhan Threlfall recalls waking down the street in the weeks after the devastating summer bushfires and not being able to make eye contact with the town’s locals.

“Probably in the month after it was really hard … because you’d see it every day and you’d just look at someone and you’d cry,” she explained to Insight.

Threlfall, a volunteer firefighter with the RFS, hails from the town of Nerrigundah, in south eastern New South Wales. While she now lives in Sydney, Threlfall’s parents and childhood home are located in the small town and she visits regularly. She was there when the inferno rolled into town on December 31st.

As fire raged through the town, Threlfall, her sister, brother and father - along with other members of the community - were forced to take shelter in their RFS shed as the fire front moved in, destroying everything, and everyone in its path.

“You didn’t know if you were going to get out alive,” Threlfall told Insight back in March when she appeared on the episode, Volunteer Firies.

Twenty out of the 25 homes in the town were destroyed that night. Threlfall’s family home managed to survive but not without damage. The back wall of the house was damaged, there was damage to a bedroom, bathroom and laundry area. They also lost their shed full of various equipment and their established garden was also destroyed.

Siobhan
On the left is a photo taken from Siobhan's front door during the fires, the right photo is taken from the house looking towards the centre of Nerrigundah
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Almost one year on from those devastating fires, Threlfall has revealed that only now has someone from the insurance company been able to come out and inspect the damage to her parents property.

“It was Monday this week [November 16] we finally had someone come and inspect the roof so that’s the first bit of work,” she said.

“It’s incredibly frustrating and you just get so sick of living in, excuse my French, a s*%t hole, you get sick of looking at it every day, you want to move on and fix certain things but you have to wait.

“It just holds everything up and holds up the process of moving on.”

For many of Nerrigundah’s locals, who lost their house in the fire, they are still living in temporary accommodation pods. At around 17 sqm, the self-contained homes resemble a shipping container.

Bushfire pods
The Salvation Army partnered with the NSW Gov. and the Minderoo Foundation to provide temporary housing pods to bushfire-affected families.

“Our neighbour, they have a pod ... and they have a caravan set up and a tent but with constant floods, I think they’ve had four or five floods this year, it’s not really the most comfortable environment to live in but they’ve been incredibly strong,” Threlfall explained.

“Our neighbour, she’s a nurse, so she’s been working at the hospital as well as dealing with that so it’s quite impressive what people have been dealing with out there.”

In the aftermath of the fires, an enormous amount of money was donated by generous Australians and Threlfall said her community, and individuals, have been lucky to receive some of that.

“As Nerrigundah lost its community hall, many people have donated both time and money into helping us with a new town hall.”

“It's been quite heart-warming the generosity that people have shown.”

Nerrigundah
Recent pictures show the rejuvenation that's happened in Nerrigundah.
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Despite some of the challenges locals are still facing, Threlfall says the area is once again starting to thrive and the community is stronger than ever.

“Probably in the past three months it’s [the area] started looking really nice once spring hit, so it’s nice to go back and see just how beautiful it’s getting.”

“I feel like a lot of the community is quite close now … we seem to have this connection there that maybe wasn’t there before.”

Nerrigundah
A before and after taken in Nerrigundah.
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With the arrival of summer on December one, Threlfall is confident we won’t see a repeat of last summer, but she’s ready to put her RFS boots on and volunteer when needed.

“Because we’ve had so much rain, and I’ve seen how well the forest is going there, and it’s so wet, I’m not worried.”

“It would be different if we were going into a very dry summer, but because we’re going into a wet summer I think that we’ll be fine, I mean you never know we could just get a month of completely dry weather and then it starts again but I feel quite positive.

“I’ll be down there so if I’m needed, I’ll be out there.”