NSW's first family-sized recovery pod shipping container arrives at Nambucca

Karly, Sunny, Winnie, Willie and Pat Willis. Photo: Christian Knight
Karly, Sunny, Winnie, Willie and Pat Willis. Photo: Christian Knight

YOUNG couple Pat and Karly Willis could be excused for kicking stones, or blackened stumps, after fire tore through their Yarranbella home near Taylor's Arm two days after they'd bought it.

It was November 9 - the Nambucca Valley's own Black Saturday - when a real estate agent phoned the couple with the confronting news that their 'new' home, "an old timber" shack, had been razed to the dirt, Pat told the Nambucca Guardian.

It was one of dozens of buildings burnt that day - and the night before, when the fire front ripped through South Arm.

Yet, six months on, Pat and Karly couldn't be happier.

This morning they received the first family-sized 'pod' - a 40-foot long shipping container - to be installed in NSW by the Minderoo Foundation.

Complete with generator power and water supply, it will be their temporary lodging for the next few months while Pat, a carpenter, builds a new home on the slab where the old once stood.

The welcomed pod is a massive step up from the camper trailer where Pat and Karly and their three button-cute children - Willie, aged 6, Sunny, 4, and Winnie 15 months - have been hunkering since the fire.

"It's just amazing, we're really appreciative," Karly said.

Sunny and Willie test out their new family-sized recovery pod

Sunny and Willie test out their new family-sized recovery pod

The cherry on top was the synchronicity of this morning's installation of the pod.

"Today's our second wedding anniversary, and Minderoo even brought us some flowers," Pat said.

But peel back the months and the outlook wasn't so rosy.

The couple had been living at Iluka on the Far North Coast, and after buying the 18-acre Yarranbella farm had managed only to drop off a few clothes and tools at the new digs.

"On the Saturday (November 9) the real estate agent called and told us what had happened. The fire was so hot that all that was left were the sheets of tin on the roof and the screws," Pat said.

The heartache didn't end there, as Pat's parents were burnt out weeks later when their home at Bodalla on the South Coast was lost on New Year's Day.

Pat is mindful though that the 'club' of people who lost property in the spring and summer is tragically large.

"We only bought the place two days' before so my heart goes out to the people who had spent 30 or 40 years building their home," he said.

The significance of the first family pod saw a string of politicians, media and local workers attend the isolated property for this morning's ceremony.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the 'recovery pods' were a great initiative, though conceded many might take years to get back on their feet.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro

Deputy Premier John Barilaro

"It's not just bricks and mortar, it's memories," he said.

Mr Barilaro reflected NSW was now in a rebuild and recovery phase, with some 1700 fire-hit blocks cleared, with hundreds more to come.

Local MP Melinda Pavey noted "it's been a hell of a journey".

Local MP Melinda Pavey and Winnie

Local MP Melinda Pavey and Winnie

"I can't imagine the tumultuous time that you've had," Mrs Pavey said.

Adrian Turner, Minderoo's Fire Fund lead, said the team had been designing, manufacturing and installing the recovery pods, which until today had been 20-foot long units.

"We're just humbled to be able to make a difference at a critical time," Mr Turner said.

Nambucca Valley mayor Rhonda Hoban said more than 60 local households were in a similar situation to Pat and Karly after the wretched Kian Rd bushfire.

And Cr Hoban marvelled that Pat and Karly had somehow also been volunteering for BlazeAid "in their spare time" outside of rebuilding their own place.

The last words were left to Pat, who was typically upbeat: "I should have the new place finished in a couple of months if I pull my finger out."

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