16 September, 2020

On the border between NSW and Victoria, three hours from Canberra lies the Bega Valley. With beautiful hills and gorgeous coastal hamlets, it is hard to believe that the region has been ravaged by fires multiple times in recent years.

On March 18 2018, fires in Tathra resulted in the loss of 69 houses and 30 caravans and cabins, with 39 houses damaged. In August 2018, fire at Yankees Gap burned for 44 days, destroying four homes and significant national park land.

Fire again came to the Bega Valley on New Years’ Eve in 2019. As 2020 began, the town experienced extreme weather conditions, numerous evacuations and loss. 65 days later the fire was extinguished, however it had taken 540,000ha – or 58% of the Bega Valley – and destroyed 448 homes, as well as claiming four lives.

Angus, his wife and three daughters, aged six, four and two, were one of the families that lost their home. While Angus was fighting to save neighbouring properties, his home was destroyed. The air was so thick with smoke that he couldn’t see a few feet in front of him. The family escaped to Canberra and were uncertain if their home was still standing, or if Angus was safe. They returned grateful for Angus’s safety, but to face the loss of their home.

Centrally located to assist, the Bega Seventh-day Adventist Church helped church members who had lost their homes and opened their church buildings to community evacuees and their pets.

Mother and daughter Norma and Vicki with their dog Ted at the Bega Church hall

“We’ve known some individuals by name and that’s pretty special,” says Wendy Hergenhan, a church member and ADRA volunteer. “We had some people with special needs. Either they had pets, dementia, were scared of social situations, or were too frail to bunker down on the floor.”

But even after the fire was extinguished, the church knew that the need was still great as people went through the long process of recovery.

“We had several projects that we would have liked to have undertaken with ADRA, but COVID made projects impossible,” says Kylie Cullinan, church member and ADRA volunteer. “This led us to contacting the local recovery centre, who said that there were people still living in tents coming into winter and people who had been unable to return to their land to begin the rebuilding process. ADRA helped us with funds to purchase caravans in order to accommodate fire affected persons.”

Bega Seventh-day Adventist Church members cleaning a caravan

The volunteers partnered with the Social Justice Advocates League, who had already placed 50 vans. They purchased four vans, which they cleaned and prepared for placing with a gourmet basket filled with donations from the church for a personal touch.

“The first van went to a single Dad and his daughter who had lost everything,” says Kylie. “The second van has been placed on Angus’ land where he and his young family are beginning the rebuilding process.”

Ray Martin visited Angus’ family on the day the van arrived. Ray Martin’s hope is that by telling their story, he would shine a light on the needs in the community, and that they will be supported. This sentiment is shared by the Bega Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Ray Martin with Angus and Stephanie Johnston (right) and their three daughters

“It’s our hope as a local church to be a light in these dark places and to bring relief and practical support to those who have experienced such devastating loss,” Kylie says. “2020 has been a difficult year for the Bega Valley, but in the midst of adversity, we have embraced the opportunity to serve our God and our community.”

You can help others recovering from disasters when you give to our Disaster Relief Fund. Please donate at adra.org.au/disaster. Funds from our Disaster Relief Fund are used in the three stages of disasters: preparedness, response and recovery.