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  • Karen Ostenried

The aftermath can be as bad as the event.

Although the act of surviving during a wildfire is extremely challenging, so too can surviving the marathon of the recovery. However it heartens me to tears to see the get up and go of so many splinter groups jumping in boots and all to respond. The hay and animal food supplies and medications, the volunteers making mittens and pouches for our marsupials. The individuals going in and rescuing injured native animals. Heroes everywhere.


I'm not going to even start on the causes but focus entirely on sending my advice from experience to those wanting to help and those in need of help. Whether you believe you are OK or not, you will need help. I will give you the dot point first and then the longer reasons below if you care to read on. One thing for sure you find out what really matters to you and who your friends really are.


To

my recommendations-


  1. Accept help, spread the load and make it as easy on yourself as you can. We didn't do this much.

  2. Ask friends or relatives to become project managers and get things that you need urgently to live. Find accommodation as rentals will be scarce.

  3. Take a break in a non fire zone for a week or two to rest, away from the triggers of the trauma. We didn't do this either.

  4. Get a good case manager. We didn't have a good one to start and I believe it had a huge impact on the length of our recovery.

  5. Don't be rushed to sign off for insurance policies, we were pushed and pushed to complete the policy and now our building is not finished and the insurance company still has about $10,000 that can be used for permits, etc but have closed the claim.

  6. Don't accept no if it doesn't make sense and make sure you have everything in writing and you take the names of people you are talking to on the phone. Telstra still haven't reconnected our permanent phone line.

  7. Use the special departments for bushfire survivors and use and check out all offers.

  8. Remember gift vouchers have a time limit for use.

  9. Work out a way to remember things ( I used my phone and several note books).

  10. Just about everything is negotiable. There is a way through but watchout for the sharks who want to take advantage of you.

  11. Work out a way to calmly discuss observed changes in behaviour and try all forms of therapy till you find the ones that work best for you.

  12. Set yourself up a support group for your mental health. I had 3 people who I could count on in my deepest times.

  13. Don't procrastinate by helping others instead of looking out for yourself first. I know this sounds cold but we were stationary for 2 years while I was volunteering in community rebuilding programs and did nothing for ourselves. Bernie one day said, "You know all the people you are helping have rebuilt". Penny drop.

  14. You will see the best and the worst of humankind. I'm available to give my advice or just listen with understanding if needed.

  15. Finally it took me about 5 years before I could fully remember things well again. Everything takes longer than you want it to. We still haven't rebuilt our house but have since re-invented ourselves, found new options and the business I love.

For those who are safe in a city somewhere and want to help , I know many of you want to give tangible items and some of these are urgently needed remember, there is no power so no refrigerators or freezers working, no ovens or toasters, the most common food in disaster areas are snags and bacon and egg sandwiches or rolls. ( I was so sick of these after 3 weeks), BBQ's with little salad or condiments. Remember that the fires and survivors in towns will be locked off till roads have been cleared . Tonnes of fresh food will simply not be distributed in time and will have to be thrown out unless they have set up cool-rooms run by generators. The army has capacity to do this. It will be interesting if they bring them in earlier than with us. Even if they get esky's to them they will still need ice?


Life after your property has been wiped out becomes dirty, hot and dry. Add to this the amount of smoke in the atmosphere that rises in the day and descends each night for weeks. The fact that everywhere you walk is ash, soot, dirt or burnt and the only colours you see are brown, grey, black or orange. The sky won't be blue for a long time. We didn't have fuel, electricity, running water and 2 families camped in our neighbours house for many weeks. We had one car but you couldn't travel far because we had to conserve fuel for the generator. You may not have internet or phone as well.


Remember also that survivors don't have any means of storage, for even clothes. As mentioned by a few of us it was super nice to get fresh new intimates and new socks rather than everyone's hand me downs. Many of the donations that relief centres received were old worn out, holey, and some even filthy dirty. As a volunteer I found even dirty nappies in the bags of clothes we were sorting. Bernie and I lived a nomadic life for the first 3 months after the fires, moving from place to place carrying a lot of clothes given to us in black garbage bags we didn't even know what we had been given nor did we have time to sort. We wanted to get back onto our property but it still took us some time to organise a shipping container so that we could then collect some tools to clean up our farm fencing or even sorting through the rubble.


Looting was rife even though the looters must have been living in the area because the roads were closed. People will be stealing, taking more than they need in order to make some easy money at markets or eBay. We saw the lowest of the low. The second week post main fire a hire company donated a truck load of generators and a group of volunteer electricians were delivering and installing them to surviving houses. Well the entire truck was stolen with all the generators and they were sold to unsuspecting builders in Melbourne. I loved one local that put a big sign up, "You Loot, We Shoot". Unfortunately the police made them remove the sign.


So money is the way to go. Also if you really want to be specific, check out all the fundraisers till you find the one's that are not only genuine and trustworthy but specific to the area you want the money to go to, for example Blaize Aid for farm fencing, animal specific, FireFighter equipment, etc.


Survivors go through a sequence from shock, grief, anger, rage, despair, before recovery even can start. People will have mood and behaviour changes, some become abusive, argumentative and massive personality changes is not uncommon. Allow space for this. Everyone will have a different way and process that they go through. Certainly discuss the behaviour and offer support to put in place things to manage it. They can't reason, short term memory loss and even physiological symptoms may appear. The short term memory loss is common and what we termed "Firebrain" will happen. This is when you are mid sentence and then your mind would go blank. If survivors can take a couple of weeks away from the devastated region to rest and recuperate I strongly advise it as does Dr Robert Gordon. Mental health will be at an all time low and suicides, marriage break-ups become common. If you haven't been through it you won't understand, just don't say, "I know how you must feel".


We were offered a case manager, and our first case manager was hopeless. So if you are offered one and don't feel like they are helping ask for a replacement. I wish we had done this, I think in the entire time she was assigned to us we got a couple of towels, a set of plastic cups and a lot of I can't do that, when I asked for something like assistance to fill in paperwork? 12 months later we received a great case manager but I was pigheaded and didn't accept of lot of what she was offering. That was one of my many dumb mistakes.


I now hate the word "Temporary", everything after a fire is temporary, and it seems temporary lasts for a lot longer than I had thought it would. Ten years down the track we are still living in temporary accommodation.


If you want to help an individual, become the project manager. Pam Fallon, notified all her network and pulled together an apartment worth of furniture, including tea towels, pots and pans, and almost the kitchen sink. We only had to source a bed and linen and a fridge. This was a massive help. She set up an online list and people filled in the list with what they could supply. We even got given a beautiful old singer sewing machine complete with elaborate filigree paintwork by an elderly lady who thought it might help. It is still stored away till we have a house that I can install it as a work of art. I do sew and it means a lot that someone would offer a piece of their life to an absolute stranger.


The insurance companies, banks, and builders and council. I strongly advise not to trust any of them. They will not want to list the payout figures because they will round down the estimations. The first figure they gave us was $5,000 short of what it should have been. Check everything and you have a right to get it itemised.

The banks must provide for disasters and this can come in a few forms. Some like ours offered to pause the repayments on our mortgage, for at least 6-12 months. They will make out they are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. Others offered this and a hold on interest at the same time. I didn't find this out until way later, so we were still being charged interest on a building that didn't exist and the amount we owed kept going up and up even before we started to rebuild.


Builders. I feel this industry is worse than the mafia. Over coded and not policed at all and the building inspectors are not accountable. This has been brought to light in cities all over the country with the cladding debacle and buildings crumbling which were signed off, so who is accountable? Builders insurance is impossible to claim on. Let's just say these two builders were the straw that broke the camel's back.


We lost our property including home, my existing business space on the property large farm sheds and stables, horse float, trailers, machinery and all but two of our beloved horses who were also seriously burnt. We thank the Kilmore Veterinary hospital for doing so much for them. Plus all those how assisted us with their recovery which saw them transported to Wiseman's Ferry for recovery and brought back. We have since lost one more. I had resigned to build up my home based business the week before the fires.


Now I run Equine Assisted Learning life and business skills programs on the property as well as casual work when it is available. People say we are inspiring. Well we have persisted but are far from a success story. I hope this gives you some insight into the way back. Karen


If you would like to help your leaders or teams, perhaps develop your personal or professional skills at the same time as help us continue to rebuild contact us to discuss a tailored program using our innovative training methods for a win win result. www.TheMatanyaEffect.com.au

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KINGLAKE , Victoria. Australia

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