By MICHELLE SLATER
The far East Gippsland mountain town of Goongerah will never be the same nearly six months after the summer bushfires, according to local woman Emily Small.
Ms Small and her mum Sharon run a wombat orphanage taking care of native animals to be gently released back into the bush around their property.
The pair bailed out when authorities told them to leave just before fires hit and destroyed 10 houses around New Year and were stunned to see their home still standing when they returned days later.
“It was unexpected, the house was untouched we didn’t have any words, the washing was still on the line, it was crazy,” Ms Small said.
“We lost two sheds and three enclosures but our house was like a green haven. It didn’t make sense. We called it Wombat Magic.”
They had taken two wombats-in-care with them when they evacuated and were able to account for another four living under the house when they returned.
Ms Small said they were gearing up to take in an influx of injured animals, but the fires were so intense that “everything died”.
Nearly six months on from that horror event, she said the journey has been “hell” and although the danger has gone she is still struggling to accept things.
“People say things will grow back but I don’t think it will in my lifetime. It won’t be as it was. Things are green but it’s a facade,” Ms Small said.
“There’s definitely some trauma and stress, some people have returned some haven’t been able to return. I just take it one day at a time.”
Ms Small said they were isolated for six weeks without phone or power as the community around them was still smouldering and shrouded in smoke.
They were attempting to rely on an outdated and failing solar system that could not cope with the smoke, or provide electricity after dark, and they were rationing hard-to-get fuel for the generator to try and get vital links with the outside world.
Ms Small said they were being inundated with messages of love and support when they were contacted by Gippsland Solar which donated a brand-new $50,000 system.
“It’s a state-of-the-art system, enough to run a three bedroom house, this has been life changing as previously we couldn’t even have lights on at night,” Ms Small said.
“We are very remote up here, organising this was amazing, we are very grateful. The ongoing support and reading people’s comments is so lovely, sometimes I cry at the amount of love.”
To learn more about the Goongerah Wombat Orphanage, or to donate, visit goongerahwombat orphanage.org.