Bobin community recovering after the bushfires

Community hub: the Bobin School of Arts hall was saved from the bush fires but everything around it is burnt. Photo: Julia Driscoll
Community hub: the Bobin School of Arts hall was saved from the bush fires but everything around it is burnt. Photo: Julia Driscoll

The recent bush fire crisis has highlighted just how critical little community halls are to outlying communities in rural areas.

They act as nerve centres for communities at these times - a command centre for emergency services, and a hub for the community that lives there. A place where people come to be with their 'neighbours', to check in on each other, to help each other out, to hug and cry, and to joke and laugh.

In the case of Bobin, it is also operating as a place where people without water and power can have a shower, wash their clothes, and cook a meal for themselves.

When I went up to Bobin on Wednesday, November 20, the hall was packed to the rafters with donations of clothes, non-perishable food, and other items. It was a hive of activity as Bobin residents waded into the sea of bags of clothing to sort.

A sea of clothes: volunteers at Bobin hall sort the clothes from the Shell Harbour donation. Photo: Julia Driscoll

A sea of clothes: volunteers at Bobin hall sort the clothes from the Shell Harbour donation. Photo: Julia Driscoll

The day before they had received a delivery all the way from Shellharbour, six hours' drive south of the Manning Valley - a truck and a trailer packed full of donations.

Cathy Herbert watched the devastation unfold in Bobin on her television, at home in Shell Cove.

"Knowing that we had life long friends out at Bobin I just thought we've got to be able to do something to help these people," Cathy told me over the phone.

She first rallied her friends for donations on Facebook, which then turned into a call to the local community for their help.

Luisa and Paul Calleja from Shell Cove, Rick (from Bobin), Cathy and Dene Herbert, and Dick Plummer (Shell Cove) with their deliver. Photo supplied

Luisa and Paul Calleja from Shell Cove, Rick (from Bobin), Cathy and Dene Herbert, and Dick Plummer (Shell Cove) with their deliver. Photo supplied

"It was a lovely generous effort. They went to so much trouble, to organise their community, take donations, to sort it all, to rent a truck and drive all the way up here," said Peter Schouten AM, renowned wildlife artist and Bobin resident.

"We're extremely grateful for it. It won't go to waste. We'll make sure that what we don't need will be distributed to places that do need it."

Peter is heading the effort at Bobin Hall, making sure it all runs smoothly, from morning to evening.

He's organised two containers that will sit behind the hall, to contain goods that people can't make use of now while they don't have their homes, but will need down the track.

On the land of the Bobin School of Arts hall. Photo: Julia Driscoll

On the land of the Bobin School of Arts hall. Photo: Julia Driscoll

He is asking that people do not donate any more physical goods, as they now have more than enough.

"If people want to contribute there are various funds that they can contribute to," he says.

I sit and talk with Peter about generosity and intuition (he also had a 'gut feeling' the day the fire came, similar to the Bobin Public School principal).

It heralded a new beginning for the community. Anything in the past, just leave it in the past. It's a new start now.

Peter Schouten

I reflect on the things that seemed bizarre or incredible, driving into Bobin.

The totally blackened landscape that in some parts glowed green on the ground as shoots of grass were making their way up, despite there being no rain since the fires. The symbolism of new growth isn't lost on me. The new growth is pick for the wallabies, however it will quickly whither and die with no rain.

Shoots of grass are colouring the burnt countryside and providing green pick for the wallabies. Photo: Julia Driscoll

Shoots of grass are colouring the burnt countryside and providing green pick for the wallabies. Photo: Julia Driscoll

The school 40kph speed sign was flashing as I drove in, with what was once the Bobin School right on the other side of the road, flattened, burnt to the ground, and covered in some blue substance to contain dust particles (someone really ought to turn that sign off, I thought, yet with a sense of the funny). Peter smiles ironically when I mention it, similarly seeing the black humour in it.

We talk about resilience, community, and post traumatic stress disorder.

We've been through the ringer and that first week everyone was pretty much shellshocked.

Peter Schouten

"We've been through the ringer and that first week everyone was pretty much shellshocked," Peter says.

"But people are coming to the hall, they're keeping busy.

Bobin Fire Station: The tiny shed that is Bobin Fire Station sits right next to Bobin hall. The fire came right up to the wall of the station. Photo: Julia Driscoll

Bobin Fire Station: The tiny shed that is Bobin Fire Station sits right next to Bobin hall. The fire came right up to the wall of the station. Photo: Julia Driscoll

"Bobin has a really strong community. I noticed that last Friday night when we had our first social, our first gathering since the fire. Normally we only get about 25 people for our Friday night social; this time it was pretty much the whole community here, with a few exceptions.

"In a community you always get animosity between certain people, but here, nup, that was all gone, that was all history. Everyone was hugging each other, crying. It heralded a new beginning for the community. Anything in the past, just leave it in the past. It's a new start now."

Of course, we talk about the wildlife, a favourite subject for both of us. We grieve over the huge losses that must have occurred, not just of the wildlife itself, but habitat.

Out of the 17 houses lost in Bobin that day, Peter's wasn't one of them. It was saved, despite eight other houses on Bobin Creek Road, where he lives, being devoured by fire.

He has been so busy working at the hall, he hasn't yet had a chance to walk over his property and assess the damage.

"But what I've noticed is, because I've got a little oasis of green all over the house, and I've got a couple of ponds and they're all intact, that the house and the garden has become a refugia for all the forest animals," he says.

"The forest birds, especially. I've got regent bower birds in the garden now, they're virtually resident. Never had them there before. There's been wompoo pigeons, white-headed pigeons, all sorts of forest things you would never see normally.

"So it's just amazing how they see this patch of green and say 'okay I'm safe here for a bit'."

He talks about mobs of wallabies that turn up on two of his paddocks (unburnt), every evening.

When I am finished talking with Peter and other people at the hall, I take myself for a drive down Bobin Creek Road, at Peter's suggestion.

And there, on a patch of green beside the road, are two wallabies feeding.

Wallabies feeding on what grass is left on the side of Bobin Creek Road. Photo: Julia Driscoll

Wallabies feeding on what grass is left on the side of Bobin Creek Road. Photo: Julia Driscoll

That, and the occasional sight of that green carpet on the unburnt ground in spots, fills me with a little hope.

But the rest is pure devastation. Burnt bushland for as far as the eye can see. I can't help my mouth gaping open in astonishment and disbelief at what I'm seeing.

It's total devastation, but we will bounce back. So will the forest.

Peter Schouten

But it's seeing the houses - people's homes, their havens - burnt to the ground, that brings you psychologically to a grinding halt, that breaks your heart.

But what right have I, who has lost nothing, to feel depressed and burdened by what I'm seeing?

I remember what Peter had told me just half an hour before, as I was leaving the hall.

"It's total devastation, but we will bounce back. So will the forest."