Rodney O'Regan OAM from Hillville has a lot of thank yous to deliver after the bushfires

Rodney O'Regan not 30 metres from his house. Photo: Julia Driscoll
Rodney O'Regan not 30 metres from his house. Photo: Julia Driscoll

When I first spoke to Rodney O'Regan OAM following the bushfire that affected his property at Hillville, he was out of breath and anxious as he was putting out a spot fire.

Now the immediate crisis has passed, Rodney is relieved but emotionally and physically spent, and having PTSD flashbacks as a result of the helicopters that waterbombed his house and the trauma of the fires.

Regardless, on top of his mind is thanking the people who have helped him through the harrowing event and it's aftermath to date.

Top of the list, and a name he mentions over and again, is his neighbour Dennis Ellem. Laced with his gratitude, though, is worry for Dennis and his family.

Ive got that many kangaroos and koalas around the place, you wouldnt believe it. Photo: Rodney O'Regan.

Ive got that many kangaroos and koalas around the place, you wouldnt believe it. Photo: Rodney O'Regan.

"My next door neighbour, Dennis Ellem, he worked side by side with me for the whole week through the heavy moments," Rodney said.

"But you wouldn't believe it, he's had a job in town and the business went into receivership last Friday (November 15) and he's lost his job.

"He's forty-eight, redundant, and he's a very active bloke. And he saved my place.

"I'd love to get him a job," Rodney said, adding that Dennis was a car dismantler and "a great outdoors man - farming, tractors, anything mechanical."

Another neighour, Gary Corner (and his wife Syvlie), is also on Rodney's list to thank. He says he would have lost his house in the second of four fires that threatened it, if it weren't for Gary and Dennis.

Bert Bennett from Tinonee RFS helped us out like you couldn't believe.

Rodney O'Regan

"Bert Bennett from Tinonee RFS helped us out like you couldn't believe. The Cat 7 from Taree - the firies," Rodney continued as he read down his list of thank yous.

Peter Fowler from Manning Pumps and Irrigation was "very, very helpful", as were the Department of Primary Industries, Elaine Turner of the Wingham Show Society, and a neighbour who loaned him a pod on a trailer, but he can't remember his name.

His cousin Sandra Ford from Melbourne was on the list for donating 10,000 litres of water and four weeks' supply of horse feed.

Photo courtesy Rodney O'Regan

Photo courtesy Rodney O'Regan

"Lauren from Taree Pet Barn gave me I don't know how much chaff and hay. She said 'I read the story (in the Manning River Times), and I cried, and then I rang you up straight away'," Rodney said.

The most tender thanks, though, goes to his partner, Voula Louison.

"She's the greatest peer I've ever had in my life," he said. "She's such a calming influence on me."

Voula, who is ill and racked with pain from multiple myeloma, stayed by Rodney's side through the ordeal.

Help received with horses

After the story in the Manning River Times, Rodney received "stacks and stacks" of offers of help from people, and has been able to temporarily rehome most of his horses to lighten the road.

The Mounted Police went through road blocks to come up and move two of his police horses, Gallant and Jack, to Bulahdelah. Two are with racehorse trainer Karen Owen on Nowendoc Road, herself an ex senior seargant of the Mounted Police.

"And I've got two going to Green Point later this week and two can stay in the paddock here. I can handle two," Rodney said.

Moving forward

Like many landholders in the fire zones, one of Rodney's biggest challenges is going to be replacing fencing. Fellow Hillville resident Adrian Kerville is donating 30 poles, which Rodney will use to replace gate posts.

"I need a post hole digger, though. The dirt's too hard. It's like concrete."

He's hoping the BlazeAid volunteers will help him with replacing some of the fencing.

"Also, my tunnel rat blokes from Vietnam - Captain John Tick, he's in West Australia, and John Pritchard - they're organising a sapper team - all 70 year olds - from Vietnam who all served together, and they're going to come up and do a fencing team with me," Rodney said.

I need a post hole digger, though. The dirt's too hard. It's like concrete.

Rodney O'Regan

Amongst the overwhelming knowledge of the work to be done, the ever present blackened view of the landscape surrounding him, and the PTSD, along comes something unexpected to give a spark of gladness to Rodney. In the mail, a few days after the interview, he found in his mailbox a letter from the Australian government thanking him for his service in the Australian Defence Force and an acknowledgement of the sacrifies he made in defence of his country, with a Veteran lapel pin.

"I left the Army in 1971... must have been lost in the mail since then!" Rodney said.