Bunja reflects on watching his country burn
In January 2020, bushfires ravaged the NSW South Coast. With the largest aged care presence in the region, IRT faced a catastrophic bushfire threat across seven sites. In this series of stories, we celebrate the courage, resilience and leadership of our employees, who kept our centres operating and our residents and customers safe.
Bunja Smith is an Aboriginal Elder and the Project Officer at Booraja Home Care in Batemans Bay, a program developed by Age Matters and run by local Elders. When bushfires threatened the Batemans Bay area on New Year’s Day, Bunja flew into action as he fought to protect his own home, help his daughter evacuate two horses, and look after Booraja home care clients.
On the morning of the fire on New Year’s day, I was at home in Surf Beach when I received a call from my daughter who lives in rural Malua Bay. She had been warned the fire was coming to her place. Her horses would not get on the float for her, so she was going to walk them down to Malua Bay beach. I drove to her to help and she walked her two horses down to Malua Bay beach.
Then the fire came to my street! It passed approximately 100 metres, maybe 150 metres away from me. I was standing out the front next to my neighbour, both with our garden hoses in our hand determined to protect our houses. The wind was in our favour. The fire blew past the end of our street and took out a few houses near us but we stayed safe. It was an experience watching a 20 foot fire only a football field length away from you, knowing it could turn on you any moment.
We did evacuate to Hanging Rock evacuation centre. A lot of the community was there including Booraja clients and we were able to talk, assess and debrief with one another.
We reopened our doors [at Booraja] on 6 January and went into action finding our clients and checking they were ok. Some had lost homes, some had relocated, some needed food, others needed something else. It was business as usual and we got on with the job.
It has not been easy on the Aboriginal people of the region, to watch your country burn! And at Booraja we are continuing to work with our clients and their families post disaster. With our aim being to help them rebuild, refocus and revive from this community disaster. The remnants of which will sadly linger for some time to come.”