Tents, sheds, caravans: How bushfire-hit residents are living on the NSW Far South Coast as winter nears

Veronica Abbott in the Quaama School of Arts community relief centre earlier this year. Picture: Photo: Sylvia Liber
Veronica Abbott in the Quaama School of Arts community relief centre earlier this year. Picture: Photo: Sylvia Liber

Summer's bushfires lasted 65 days, covered about 58 per cent of the Bega Valley and took four lives.

Now the valley on the Far South Coast of NSW is feeling the chill as the mercury starts to drop below zero.

The situation is even more grim for those who lost their homes in the recent bushfires and are living in temporary or unsuitable accommodation.

This was the case for about 30 households in the Quaama region, the village's Bushfire Relief Centre coordinator Veronica Abbott said.

"For some people there's no other choice," she said. "But for a lot of people it's where they need to be."

On Friday, a Bega Valley Shire Council spokesperson said the last count found 466 homes had been destroyed in the fires, and council had so far received 22 development applications from bushfire-impacted landholders with a number of them already approved.

"I'd stress that people rebuilding shouldn't be seen as a measure of success or health - people come to these decisions in their own time and in the end choose different options that might not include rebuilding," the council spokesperson said.

Council does not have an exact number of bushfire-affected residents in unsuitable accommodation, with council's recovery project lead Chris Horsburgh saying various numbers have been quoted from "unqualified sources" and there was a range of factors underlying the number of people in the situation.

Ms Abbott said many of those who lost their homes in the Quaama region were living in conventional housing for a time, but had to return to their properties to take care of their animals or were unable to keep their animals at the places they were renting.

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Others had to return to their burnt properties because they did not have the insurance to pay for six months of accommodation, some were working on their properties, while others returned for their own wellbeing, she said.

"For people who live on properties, their property is their home, the community is their home," she said.

Ms Abbott said she knew people in her region were using tents for storage, living in caravans, shipping containers or non-council approved sheds.

"The main thing is it gets so bloody cold in the caravans, sheds and tents that are just not designed to cope with winter," she said.

Weatherzone does not have records for the temperatures in the towns and localities heavy-hit by the bushfires, like the Cobargo and Quaama regions, Brogo, Rocky Hall area and south of Eden.

But in Bega it reached -0.8 degrees Celsius early on Friday morning, and the predicted range over the next week was from four to 23 degrees.

Mr Horsburgh said everyone needed to be mindful of any stigma and shame the people living in unsuitable accommodation might feel during this time.

"Talk of people living in tents and caravans in the media and parliament needs to be done sensitively, acknowledging the wide and varied choices and circumstances people are facing," he said.

"Unless any underlying factors are also addressed in the provision of a housing solution, there is a likelihood that the housing need won't be satisfactory.

"One size doesn't fit all."

Mr Horsburgh said for this reason the Bega Valley Recovery Support Service was taking a person-to-person case management approach and encouraged people to contact the service if they were bushfire-impacted and needed support.

"With the permission of each person and within privacy guidelines, we are and will share some information with other agencies as we all look to collaborate in supporting our community and meeting their needs," he said.

"Friends, family and community members can also contact the service on behalf of others.

"We welcome the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and are eager to be out connecting more directly with people in our communities again."

To contact the Bega Valley Recovery Support Service call 6499 2345 or email recovery@begavalley.nsw.gov.au.

This story Tents, sheds, caravans: How bushfire-hit residents are living as winter nears first appeared on Bega District News.