Hans: When the fires came, we were told we had to evacuate.
Heidi: The police came and said we had to go.
Hans: So we went and did two nights away and then came back and nothing had happened.
Heidi: Finally, when the fire actually came, Hans said, ‘No, I want to stay.’ I thought if we’re gonna lose our home it can be rebuilt, but I don’t really want to die here in the fire.
Hans: If I hadn’t been here then the house would’ve burnt down.
Heidi: So, I left and he stayed. We had a mate that called in, I passed him at the driveway, on the turnoff. Later when I talked to him, he said he was thinking, If I drive in there, I don’t think I’ll ever come out.
Hans: We saw the fire coming early in the morning. Council came up with two graders and a dozer to put in a fire break. I was picking zukes, and all of a sudden one grader came, second grader came, and then the dozer (who’s not very fast!). I could hear clippy-clappy-clippy-clap and he came full bore, and I stopped him and he said, ‘It’s coming, get ready!’ They thought Summerland Way would be a fire break, but pwah it was gone.
It came down and I watched it, watched it, watched it. Somehow, I was in the wrong movie. That’s the feeling I got, It’s not going to come here, because this can’t happen to me. Like everyone else gets cancer, but you think, Well I won’t. Was just the same. I was thinking that it’s never going to happen to me. And then it just came and I can still remember, the flames were about 30 metres high. It was just a wall of fire, just coming. And then going phwoar! And then the paddock started burning. Spot fires everywhere, three sheds, one shed full of hay. I was on the quad bike with the knapsack, just running around till three o’clock the next morning keeping the sheds safe so the fire wouldn’t get into the hay and all that. The next morning it was like, It’s all over… What do I do first?
Heidi: But it wasn’t really over, because there were still flareups every which-where. And you never knew where they were or when they were coming. I remember one night at eleven o’clock when I started almost screaming, and I said, ‘It’s burning at the work shed here!’ There was this whopping flame and I thought, Shit, the whole creek burns again! I woke Hans, I had to wake him – he’d only gone to sleep an hour before – and he went to check, and it was gone.
Hans: There was some dead bush that went up within a minute.
Heidi: But you’d see it and you’d think, Argh! Again!
The flames were about 30 metres high
Hans: Over in that paddock we had wildlife. You know Jehovah’s Witnesses, when they have their pictures of the lions and the sheep and all that? We had the same thing here. We had dogs and kangaroos. Everyone went for that little spot that didn’t burn. But then we found a lot of dead birds, snakes, goannas – all burnt. We still haven’t got the birdlife we had before. When I used to split wood, there’d always be butcher birds waiting for white ants and witchetty grubs. But after the fires, no butcher birds. The heat must’ve gone that high up. Smaller birds can’t fly that high. They must’ve been cooked in the air.
Heidi: The blue wrens disappeared. They are back now, but it took two years almost. And another thing we didn’t see last year was the satin birds. I don’t know whether that was because of the fire, or another reason, but we normally have heaps of them and they weren’t there this year.
Hans: Even after the fire, it kept on burning for weeks. We could see smoke there and smoke there and you’d hear – kaboom! – and another big mama had come down. The bush was just somehow dead. I found that really sad, about the wildlife. About a week later nine of our heifers came out of the bush with burnt teats, burnt feet, burnt bellies. I can still tell you which ones they are, because they’ve got scars. You wonder how they survive. No one can imagine where they would’ve been during that fire. We considered them lost. We had them on agistment. We knew they weren’t there, so we just presumed they’d burnt somewhere, then all of a sudden they rocked up. They came and they sort of asked for help, appreciation that they’d actually survived. Some people say animals can’t think. That’s because they’ve never worked with them. Animals can think. We put them on good feed and hoped for the best. They all survived. Their ears were burnt, their hooves were gone. They were hobbling. Any animal, be it kangaroo or whatever, I feel sorry for them. I didn’t choose to be born as Hans, just like they didn’t choose to be born a kangaroo.
Hans: Insurance was good with us. We had a dam and the pump burnt; ignited because of the heat. We needed water, stock water. I went to Casino and bought a pump. Then I went to NRMA and told Heidi and she said, ‘Give me that docket!’ In two days I had the money in my bank. Then, a few days after the fire, I did my Byron Bay run. Every Wednesday I used to go there and sell our veggies. Anyway, half-past six in the morning I heard about the grant that was available. I stopped, I rang Heidi, I said, ‘Go check www so-and-so, there’s a grant.’ She checked. Applied. Two to three days later we had it. The grant helped us a lot. After the fire we just broke even. Sixteen kays of fences and all paid. We had a semi-trailer load of fence gear that cost $46,000. It was gonna take us two years to do the work and then BlazeAid came in.
Heidi: They were just wonderful.
Hans: I knew they existed, I just didn’t know how it works. They had an information day and they said, ‘You supply the material and we supply the work.’ But all the machinery work, the tractor work, you had to do it yourself, because of insurance. And that pushed us. We still had a thousand zucchinis to pick every morning! And then I had to cut all the round posts, the strainer posts, because we did all steelies, but you still have to have strainer posts. This couple, they came from West Wiangaree. Evelyn and Ian. He’s 78, and she’s not far off. And he was on the chainsaw all day, cutting round posts.
Heidi: And they weren’t even BlazeAid.
The community was amazing, everyone was helpful
Hans: They were just volunteers. We had volunteers from everywhere. We had phone calls. We had people from overseas send us money.
Heidi: It was unbelievable. Someone did a GoFundMe page and that went viral.
Hans: Heidi said to me one day, she was sitting on the computer, she said, ‘Do you know a bloke Han Jort?’ I said ‘Yeah, he was in the army. I did my national service with him.’ Never heard from him since, and he sent fifteen hundred bucks!
Heidi: And the community! I thought the community was amazing, everyone was helpful. We had about seven people offering us a bed when we had to evacuate, just in this area. It is really nice to see how people just get up and want to help when something like that happens. It’s really nice. You become so aware of what is important in life.
Hans: A Swiss newspaper approached us. We were in the media. One morning the phone rings. It was Swiss national radio. They said, ‘Can we have you for an interview?’ I said yes and said, ‘Half-past eleven on Sunday morning.’ I rang me sister, I said, ‘You’d better listen to the country hour.’ She said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘You’ll get a surprise.’ I was on the air for half-an-hour over the phone. After I hung up the phone kept on ringing: ‘Hans was that you?’ They all rang, all me mates from over there. Another time we got a parcel in the post. There was a card in it, ‘I’m so-and-so from the Gold Coast, get in touch’. But no address! Couldn’t even say thank you. It was nice though, full of goodies, but we couldn’t even say thank you.