A woman from Tathra who lost her house in the recent bushfire has come up with an innovative concept for rebuilding.
On March 18, Lies Paijmans was in Bermagui when she heard about a fire near Tathra.
After stopping in Mogareeka and seeing it approach the town, she headed home and saw people packing and leaving, including one of her sisters, who lived next door.
“I went into my house and grabbed my laptop and iPad, and that was all,” she said.
“I wandered around a bit aimlessly; I just had no plan, I didn’t expect it to happen.”
She drove to Mogareeka, from where she could hear gas bottles popping in the heat, and watched the bushfire hit the town.
“I was completely convinced the whole of my street would have been burnt,” she said.
“I texted my son and told him ‘get ready to say goodbye to your house’.”
Later when she was in Brogo she got the news she both dreaded and expected, that her house had burnt down – although it was the only one on her street.
It had been her home for 14 years, where she had lived with her parents when taking care of them and she had lost may treasured items, such as photo albums and paintings by family members.
“It was pretty hard to take it in, it was just shocking. What else can you say?” she said.
Ms Paijmans said it was also hard on her other sister who had the house built for their parents to live in, as all the sympathy came to her but not her sister who also felt traumatised.
“I think that’s the case for a lot of people in Tathra. They didn’t necessarily lose anything, or only some things, but felt like they didn’t deserve the attention when there were other people that lost everything,” she said.
While she went through a stage where she did not even want to see the remains of her house again, she realised rebuilding was an opportunity to look into the future and came up with the idea of communal living.
The plan is to build a house with several self-contained rooms as well as a common living and kitchen space so residents can look after each other as they grow older, which means that in the long term they could continue to live at home for longer instead of moving into an aged care facility.
Both permaculture and sustainable principles would be utilised during the construction process.
Ms Paijmans has been to most of the community meetings in the aftermath of the fire, but said a disappointing aspect was the absence of a process to get the community actively involved in sharing stories and ideas and being part of the whole decision making process, rather than passive recipients of the help provided, as wonderful as this has been.
I loved my house, I loved my garden. It was the perfect place and to have it all just gone feels like a tragic waste.
“I think it’s a shame the recovery process hasn’t focused more on community involvement in the decision processes and sharing people’s stories in a structured way,” she said.
“If as a community we want to get stronger… it will only happen effectively if we do it through self-determination.”
While she said the Tathra community was recovering slowly, she said there were still many people who were traumatised and easily triggered.
“That sort of trauma can take a long time to recover from, it can take years,” she said.
“I think the best thing for me is I’ve got such a good network of friends and family so the process has been less traumatic for me than maybe it has been for other people.
“I did go through a period of being completely overwhelmed by grief, loss and shock.
“I loved my house, I loved my garden. It was the perfect place and to have it all just gone feels like a tragic waste.
“At least no-one died, no-one was hurt. That would have been a very different feeling.”