Rainforest raised

Terri Nicholson, Terania Creek
Terri, Donovan, and Marco Teak. Photo: Terri Nicholson

I grew up here at the end of the valley next to the rainforest. I was three years old when the protest to protect the Terania Creek rainforest happened. Being part of that instilled in me a sense of belonging with that forest and this valley. I feel so grateful and proud that our community has this history of taking care of these precious places. I have so many memories of the forest, of adventuring, of feeling so free and connected. So when the fire started, it touched something very deep. 

It was just getting to dusk, and there was just a glow. Mum and I looked out the window as the fire came around one of the bluffs on the western side of the Terania basin. It went so fast, it lit up the entire sky. We grabbed some mattresses from the house and sat up there that night and took turns sleeping. Someone was always awake, and the others witnessing. By the next morning it was starting to come out, down Wallace Ridge. That’s when the volunteers started coming in to work with the RFS. There were lots of locals who had the machinery and the expertise to help. They started by clearing logs.  

I ended up taking on the role of communicating with the RFS, and then communicating with the rest of the community. I ended up posting updates daily to keep people informed. That first day when we were trying to get that trail cleared, it was just through local connections, through the RFS and family connections, that volunteers ended up starting to help out. The fire then moved quickly down Terania valley, went over Mt Nardi and down into the Tuntable community, and that community ended up mobilising their volunteers. They got very active and very coordinated over there.

So when the fire started, it touched something very deep

We have four kids and at that time they were two, six, nine and sixteen. My family’s property was the first to be impacted, so we were coming and going from there, taking turns to be with the kids here at home, packing up for if we needed to evacuate. My husband Donovan would often be out overnight, helping on containment lines, and then I would be helping or coordinating all through the day. We were still coordinating patrols on the containment lines up into January, so through November, all through December and half way into January, coordinating multiple patrols 24/7. It was just a massive juggle. 

I remember one night, I’d been coordinating for multiple days – on my phone constantly, texting, talking. At one point 50 volunteers a day were going into Rainbow community – that’s just one spot. My husband was out doing a patrol and I was home. I got the kids to sleep, still trying to get the rosters filled for the next day. Things were always changing, different numbers needed in different spots… But I just needed some sleep. So I got into bed, put my phone down, and I’d just put my head on the pillow, and I got a call from Ivy Young, who was on the fireground saying, ‘There’s a breach, we need more people now. See what you can do.’ 

I literally sat up and started cold-calling people in our community, people who had already self-identified, who’d come earlier days already. But basically cold-calling people between 11:30 and 1 at night, saying, ‘Is there any chance you could come out? We need some more people on the ground.’

It was just a massive juggle

Marco Teak watching the smoke and fires: Photo Terri Nicholson

Within a small amount of time we had eleven people, right up the end of a thirteen kilometre long dirt road, helping to contain that fire. We were completely exhausted, but there was such an uplifting feeling of working together, everyone just stepping into roles they could see needed doing. People who hung out with the kids, people who did food-related stuff, and people who were able to do the on-the-ground stuff. There were so many roles that needed filling. 

It was a kind of magic when self-organisation happens. It was a sort of dance, of people just doing what they could with their skills, with their interest, and it all just working so well together. 

Many of us had grown up riding horses or motorbikes, or walking through these trails, we had this specific knowledge that the RFS could draw upon that was really valuable in this particular instance. There was a real sense of collaboration there. And it wasn’t just people volunteering from the Channon, Terania, and Tuntable. We had people coming from all around the north coast. I was amazed at the calls I was getting, from people willing to show up at 2am and come prepared with all their PPE gear. 

It was a kind of magic when self-organisation happens

Elke and Terri Nicholson watching the fires. Photo Terri Nicholson
The top side of Protestors Falls after the fires. Photo Terri Nicholson

The community had helped protect that forest forty years ago, and it is now a World-Heritage listed National Park. A lot of people relate to that place, they have a deep connection and appreciation for Protesters Falls and that forest there. So when a fire started in that rainforest, people felt moved. 

We are so grateful that the conditions were not catastrophic and we were able to step in and support the RFS through our volunteer support. It meant we weren’t grieving loss of life, or severe loss of infrastructure, we were grieving the loss of forest, but overall we came away feeling more connected and uplifted as a community. We’re a bunch of steps further along the process of broad resilience because the fires happened here.