In devastated Nymboida, dark humour keeps residents going


The updated number of homes destroyed was revealed to townsfolk at the fortnightly Sunday market in the village hall. They shared tea cake and instant coffee and checked on another.

Nymboida is a village made up of cow cockies, hippies and tree changers: Fifth-generation beef graziers and those who fled the foetid and gritty air of the dusty, dirty city.

Eleven days ago the rampant Liberation Trail fire burnt 50,000 hectares in a matter of hours. It still threatens neighbouring townships and has wiped out more than 163,850 hectares.

Those in Nymboida question how no one was killed and share their survival stories at the hall or over a beer down the road at the community-run camping and canoeing centre.

They tell the tale of Julian Smallacombe, who moved here 15 years ago to retire early and grow a garden full of fruit trees.

As the fire raged towards his home he realised it was too late to escape. He drove to his dam and jumped in, lying on his back, submerged in water and mud leaving only his nose poking out for air. He lay there for “hours”. Julian retells the yarn of how he thought he was “a goner” over a rollie and a cuppa, pointing to the melted indicator light on his four-wheel drive and heat-warped wing mirror.

“There was a tank of diesel in the back too. How on earth it didn’t go up?” he says.

An overturned car in Nymboida which was ravaged by fires last week.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

His house and his fruit trees a gone. His trusted rescue dog, Bindi, was spooked by the flames and bolted. She hasn’t been seen since.

Along Glens Creek Road, where logs still smoulder, few homes still stand. In the piles of twisted iron and rubble, a blackened washing machine or cast-iron bath tub peeks through the ruins. Those who still have a home express their feelings of guilt towards their neighbours who do not.

On Frickers Road homes are entirely flattened. The scorched earth and charred gums resemble post-apocalyptic scenes. A kookburra’s laugh occasionally breaks the ghostly silence.

Loading

The Nymboida River, popular with canoeists and kayakers, is lower than it has been in a long time. You can walk across it in parts.

The ongoing drought rendered surrounding bushland a tinderbox last year. The rain expected at this time of year hasn’t come. It didn’t arrive last year either.

“Welcome to hell on earth,” Bob says in a Cockney accent. “I have no idea how the chooks survived.”

Bob, who emigrated a decade ago when his wife’s elderly parents needed support, lost his home but just one of his 12 adult Orphington hens. They’re all named after members of the royal family.

The rooster, George, and his mates Elizabeth, Victoria and Mary peck around the melted garden house near where the front porch used to stand.

Only one of about 10 young chicks lived to cluck again. Departing with Windsor tradition, Bob has christened him Phoenix.

He wants to rebuild but Narelle told him she won’t live there again.

“At first she said let’s go to Tasmania and I told her they get fires there too,” he says.

“So she said ‘how about New Zealand?’. I said, ‘What about the earthquakes?'”

Black humour is a coping mechanism as survivors gather around for lunch at the canoe and camping centre, which is providing emergency beds and a meeting point for those coming and going from temporary accommodation in Grafton.

“We all had our own unique homes,” says Laena Stephenson, who worries after living in the village only 35 years she’s not quite a local.

“But they all look the same now. They’re all horizontal!”

Laena lost her family home but stresses she “hasn’t lost everything”.

Nymboida resident Laena Stephenson, who lost her home to a bushfire last week, at a recovery centre set up at the Nymboida campgrounds.

Nymboida resident Laena Stephenson, who lost her home to a bushfire last week, at a recovery centre set up at the Nymboida campgrounds.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“This little community will survive. Some won’t want to come back. It will be too hard for others to rebuild. But we all have each other. We’re a pretty resilient mob.”

On Saturday a stranger drove up from Newcastle and wandered into the makeshift rescue centre and handed her $500 cash.

“He wanted it to go to someone who had lost their home. I couldn’t take it,” she said. “There are people who didn’t even have insurance. They’re the people we are going to need to help.”

The church, school and the famous Cobb & Co Coaching Station Inn still stand. A convoy of Rural Fire Service trucks and County Fire Authority units from Victoria help saved them and some homes.

Locals stress their gratitude and don’t bear grudges for them not making it to their own place.

“They’re volunteers,” says Bob. “They put their lives on the line. It roared through here at 80 kilometres per hour. The undercurrent sucked you towards it and it roared towards us. They wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

The school reopens on Monday but the community remains frightened a wind change and forecast of more hot weather could again put them in the line of fire.

But amid the anxiety expect more jokes. As a group gathered for a beer on Friday night one wag gagged, “Geez it’s late… don’t you have homes to go to?”.

Not anymore.

Most Viewed in Politics

Loading



Politics

Related posts

Make a comment