The Blakemans begin their rebuild

The Blakemans begin their rebuild

The community of Wairewa, where 11 homes were lost during the bushfires, is very good at supporting each other.

But, like everyone, had to go into isolation during the peak of coronavirus lockdowns.

Elizabeth and Brian Blakeman, whose house survived but lost everything else, are looking forward to the return of community gatherings.

“Before the virus we were having community breakfasts and visiting each other so it will be good to gather once more,” Elizabeth said.

“There is a soup and bun night hopefully happening soon.”

The Blakemans have just had the remains of their burnt outbuildings cleared away by Grocon contractors.

“The shearing shed was the old Cape Conran Community Hall and had a lot of asbestos in it,” Elizabeth said.

“The remains had to be removed under strict precautions and overseen by a hygienist.”

The Blakemans lost all their fences and have had Blaze Aid rebuilding the boundary while they tackle the internal fences.

“We are very grateful to these volunteers,” Elizabeth said.

Ninety per cent of their property was burnt so they have lost not only their shearing shed, but stock yards, machinery shed, all their farming implements including the tractor, and sadly their livestock.

“My husband had three wooden boats he had built himself destroyed, plus historical carriages and a Cobb and Co coach,” Elizabeth said.

“The caravan was burnt so badly the windows looked like molten balls of lava.”

Although the fire burnt everything outdoors, Elizabeth is grateful the house was spared.

“We built our home knowing we were in a fire prone area. The house is built out of rock and has a cement floor,” she said.

“Every year we have added something to fireproof it more. For example shutters for the windows and lots and lots of sprinklers.”

The trees are away from the house and the Blakemans prepared well leading up to the disastrous day on December 30. They cut the grass twice, cleared all debris and gutters and had pumps and water at the ready.

“My brother, Chris, who is in his 70s, came up to help us and was there when the fire swept through,” Elizabeth said.

“So it was three people in their 70s and 80s there ready to defend.”

When the fire started bearing down, Elizabeth decided to leave, but as their driveway was already engulfed, she drove through the paddocks.

“I could see fires spotting all around me but just kept my eyes ahead and drove,” she said.

“Luckily I didn’t look in the rear vision mirror as unbeknowns to me the main fire was coming up behind me.

“Those who could see me were hoping I didn’t decide to stop.”

Elizabeth took refuge in the Wairewa Hall with 12 other residents, some stranded campers and firefighters.

“The CFA saturated the hall with water, there was no power and it was dark, the sound was horrific,” Elizabeth said.

“At midnight I had a call from my brother who said it was very hot before the phone went dead. It was a long night. I had no idea how they were getting on.

“We all slept on the floor, I didn’t think I got any sleep but the other residents said I did because I snored.

“At 6am they drove me home and the house was still there.”

Meanwhile Brian and Elizabeth’s brother had also been through some very frightening times.

They had wet everything down and turned the pump off for a moment.

“When they tried to restart the pump it would not keep going. They had a second pump connected as an emergency and it was doing the same thing,” Elizabeth said.

“They had another emergency pump but that was inadequate so they sheltered inside the house.”

Elizabeth doesn’t know if it was sheer luck or the fact they had put so many measures in place, but the house didn’t burn.

They discovered later a branch had fallen across the tap to the pumps and closed off the supply of water.

Their farm is 186 acres which is too small to be classified as a farm to get the bushfire grants.

“We are dependent on insurance, but like everyone we were underinsured, you never insure for the true value,” Elizabeth said.

The Blakemans had considered themselves retired and had agisted sheep on the farm.

“We bought this land when we were in our 40’s and 50’s but now we are in our 70’s and 80’s we just don’t have the same energy or oomph,” Elizabeth said.

Elizabeth has had to learn new skills like driving the tractor, fencing, learning about the different grasses and even had a go at water divining.

“We are busy rebuilding sheds, stockyards and getting new tanks,” she said.

The Blakemans, like many others, in the valley are looking forward to getting together as a community once more.

IMAGE: Brian and Elizabeth Blakeman, with Elizabeth’s brother, Chris (centre), prepare to fight the bushfires. (PS)