The township of Mallacoota was the poster image of last summer’s Australian bushfires.
Images of tourists and local residents trapped in the town and taking refuge on the beach, as the fireball coated the seaside resort in an eerie orange glow, went viral. Almost 12 months on and many residents are still waiting to rebuild after the Black Summer fires.
While the process has been slow going with delays and bureaucratic red tape hampering the rebuild, some residents have taken up an offer to move into short-term modular housing.
Geoff Belmore, who lost his home in the bushfires, is one of them.
Mr Belmore lost not only his home at Karbeethong, but a second property, which included three units.
He had been in the process of renovating the units, which once housed teachers beside the Mallacoota P-12 College.
Mr Belmore, who lost his wife to cancer in 2017, was interstate when the fires struck.
“I’d tried to return to Mallacoota, but was unable to get back in,” Mr Belmore told the Snowy River Mail.
“It was horrendous. I had friends in the caravan park who took pictures of my home and to see a molten mess was absolutely heartbreaking.
“They sent me a picture of my boat and I couldn’t recognise it.”
Mr Belmore also lost a prized Harley Davidson motorbike, which he had lovingly rebuilt, and a classic car collection, which included a ‘77 Corvette, two MGs, an EH Holden and a 1942 Dodge ute.
He has since been living in a caravan in Mallacoota and describes 2020 as “tough year”.
“With COVID-19, I found it really hard, I was stuck in a caravan and couldn’t talk to anyone,” he said.
Mr Belmore says moving into a modular home, while his house is rebuilt, has made a difference to his emotional wellbeing.
Bushfire Recovery Victoria has made the homes available to those who lost their primary place of residence.
So far, six residents in Mallacoota who lost their homes, have taken up the offer to rent the modulars while they continue the process of rebuilding.
A charity partner of Bushfire Recovery Victoria, GIVIT, has donated household essentials to ensure bushfire-impacted residents, and their families, can immediately feel comfortable at home.
The furnishings include whitegoods and appliances, furniture, bedding, kitchenware and home essentials, such as brooms and dustpans.
GIVIT engagement officer, Lisa Herbert, said new appliances and furniture are just as treasured as new linen that many bushfire- affected residents have gone without since January.
Ms Herbert says given the bushfires wrought their fury almost a year ago “we think people are back on their feet, but many are not”.
“We’ve seen first-hand the many factors impacting recovery and making a decision on how to move forward can at times be the biggest obstacle,” Ms Herbert said.
“Throw in COVID-19 and you can see why the recovery process has varied for residents and families.”
Mr Belmore’s new home was furnished by GIVIT and includes a new bed, couch, fridge, washing machine and a kitchen table.
“I can’t believe I have a new bed to sleep in,” he said.
“So many people and businesses have chipped in to help us, I’m lost for words. I don’t know what to say,” Mr Belmore said.
“It’s just an amazing blessing, what a beautiful country we have here.
“I just want everyone to know there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Mr Belmore, who helped others in the aftermath of the Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday bushfires, says he’s been given “a fresh start” and remains blown away by the generosity of everyday Australians.
“It’s put me back on my feet and made me feel loved,” he said.
“I’m now looking forward to the end of this year and kicking this one in the arse.”
An overjoyed Geoff Belmore tries out his new couch for comfort. He has now moved into a temporary home following last summer’s bushfires while he waits to rebuild and was gifted furniture by the charity organisation, GIVIT. (PS)