Telling Nambucca residents the truth about November 8, 2019

Gathering the rawness of our shire's shared catastrophe

Carrolline Rhodes says being asked by Nambucca Valley Council to write the formal record of the catastrophic events of November 8, 2019 was an "extraordinary privilege" she felt honoured to accept.

"The brief is that the book be a forum for people to share their stories, honestly and openly, people telling their truths and by putting these individual experiences together, shared truths are revealed," Carrolline said.

Since accepting the 'mission' in September, she says she has talked to more than 20 people from all over the shire, covering more than 700 kms in three weeks.

"I've been to places I'd never visited before and met many extraordinary people and have been repeatedly welcomed with such grace.

"For some it is very hard to share their stories and some just don't want to have to relive it. For others it is a relief to be heard ... many people are not used to being listened to in this way.

"I have been asked if the publication is going to be a whitewash or did I want to know the truth? Others asked if they could speak to me without being identified in the publication.

"My answer to both is that the truth and the freedom to express it are central to the initiative. Every story I have been told will be included."

She said many common threads were emerging, the most disturbing of which was the lack of warning.

"Without exception, everyone I've interviewed so far said they had no idea that the 'Kian Road Fire' related to them or their property. Puzzlement and anger are common and these are the questions fire-affected people are asking.

"Why weren't the Kian Road and Fortescue Creek fires put out before they got a chance to join? Why isn't local knowledge being utilised by RFS command? Why isn't back burning used the way it used to be, why isn't there more hazard reduction burning?

"I fully intend to address these questions in the conclusion."

When asked, the mayor Rhonda Hoban said the book was not what people will be expecting, but is what is needed.

"We've asked Carrolline to write it as it is told to her," the mayor said.

"And when I read the draft of the first hundred pages I was stunned by the power of people's words - all the fear, the panic, the confusion, the uncertainty, it's there in all its rawness. It is such a contrast to the orderly summaries and reports that arrive detailing all aspects of the recovery process.

"It is a truly a record of what it was like to face that blaze on November 8, a record for posterity.

"There are sure to be criticisms of council but to me, if we are serious about improving, we need to hear that and take it on board."

Currently Carrolline is coming to the end of the book's first section, which concentrates on the events of 8 November.

The next section will pursue the immediate aftermath of the fires, which will include Nambucca Valley Council support, plus community and aid agencies response.

The third section will be about living in temporary accommodation, the process of rebuilding and what lingers in people's minds a year after the fire.

It is anticipated that the book will be in people's hands by mid-2021. If anyone would like to share their stories with Carrolline, she can be contacted at carrollinerhodes@gmail.com.

Also making the news: