NSW Bushfire Clean-up Program in Hillville helps Rodney O'Regan's mental health

Rodney and his horse, Gallant, surveying the property post bushfires. Photo: supplied
Rodney and his horse, Gallant, surveying the property post bushfires. Photo: supplied

Eight months after bushfires belted through Rodney O'Regan's property at Hillville, the landscape is lush and green, his beloved horses have returned, and his cattle are getting fat. Life is beginning to return to a semblance of normality for Rodney. But not yet completely.

Last week finally saw the end of clean-up activities by the NSW government's Bushfire Clean-up Program on the property. Rodney's was the last of around 30 properties in the Hillville area to be cleaned up.

The crew of four from Laing O'Rourke cleaned up a burnt out shed that Rodney had lived in while building his house, and a caravan that was reduced to a puddle on the ground, among other things.

"They did a fantastic job of cleaning up and I was extremely happy," Rodney said.

Two of the crew from Laing O'Rourke who helped clean up Rodney O'Regan's property. Photo supplied

Two of the crew from Laing O'Rourke who helped clean up Rodney O'Regan's property. Photo supplied

"I can't talk highly enough of the government clean-up that they did in this area. I'm more than happy with the work that they did, and the professional way they did it."

It would have been an expensive exercise had Rodney had to pay for it, with a 20 tonne excavator being delivered and taken away by a low loader, and an eight tonne truck which took five loads of mainly steel to the tip.

In the months prior to the government clean-up, Rodney had help from army mates to help clear up timber and rebuild inner fences.

Before and after: eight months on.

Before and after: eight months on.

A colonel from Rodney's Vietnam days put a call out on an engineers' group on Facebook saying 'Rodney needs a hand' and responses came from as far away as Darwin.

"There was an army of retired engineers that I served with and other fellows I didn't even know, but when the message came out I couldn't believe the way they came and helped me out," Rodney said.

"I had posts delivered from different engineers I'd never heard of, barbed wire, you couldn't believe the amount of work they did. They even serviced my cars!" Rodney laughed.

Rodney also received help from BlazeAid who rebuilt the perimeter fences.

"BlazeAid did a magnificent job. At one stage I had two teams, and behind them they had a school bus from Dunedoo High School with a whole heap of 16-18 year old kids on board, and they joined in," Rodney said.

While the pasture is lush and the clean-up has finished, there are still visible reminders of the bushfire devastation that will not go away any time soon.

There are a couple of ridges out here that I don't think will ever regenerate.

Rodney O'Regan

"There are a couple of ridges out here that I don't think will ever regenerate. They're just sparse. There's a ridge you can see from my back door that's just gone - dead trees. There's a bit of undergrowth growing down the bottom, but the trees are just spent," Rodney said.

His mental health took a beating from the bushfires, and it is only now that the anxiety is starting to subside somewhat.

"My post traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam days 50 years ago, and also the 24 years I was in the police, it all came back to me in the bushfires," Rodney said.

Rodney's most beloved horse, Gallant, had to be temporarily rehomed due to lack of feed on the ground post bushfires. He is now back home. Photo supplied

Rodney's most beloved horse, Gallant, had to be temporarily rehomed due to lack of feed on the ground post bushfires. He is now back home. Photo supplied

"And I reckon I'm just starting to come off and feel a lot better in myself now. I've stopped looking all over the block for fires every day."

And as back to normal as the property now looks, the cleaning up work hasn't actually stopped for Rodney.

"The big thing now, after the fires have gone, are all the weeds that have germinated. I have a big spraying job to try and get all the thistles and everything," he said.

"Other than that I might have one or two small jobs to do. My property is virtually nearly back to where it was before. I can relax now."

Rodney's brahmans are now fat and happy. Photo supplied

Rodney's brahmans are now fat and happy. Photo supplied

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