The impact on communities was far reaching and three of our practices, Maven Dental Narooma, Maven Dental South Coast in Moruya and Batemans Bay Orthodontics found themselves at the centre of the dramatic events.
For Rachel Glover, Practice Manager at Maven Dental South Coast (based in Moruya) sitting at home on high alert, knowing that evacuation was highly likely and that they were at the mercy of the winds is still clear in her mind. Rachel recalls burnt leaves falling to the ground in the yard of her home and the strong smell of smoke that lingered for weeks after.
Rachel recalls “Things moved very quickly and with roads both North and South closed, the beach or river were the only places that seemed safe. Our plans changed a few times as roads closed or got so busy that they were clogged with cars. Our Maven Practice Team were lucky, no one from our practice lost their home but many did have to evacuate and spend a night on the beach.”
With so many stories of loss and lucky escape, our dental practices became a place that our patients felt safe to talk about their experiences. “Many of our patients came in wanting to share their stories. Our team really was amazing in how they handled it. We really had to tred carefully as everyone’s experience was different” Rachel explained.
Rachel’s elderly parents were amongst those who were lucky to escape after being late to evacuate their home in Tomakin (about 10-15 minutes north of Moruya on the coast). “In the end they were unable to get to the beach, the road was full of everyone else trying to get to the beach or the river, so they had to wait in their car and hope and pray a change came through” Rachel says. Thankfully, the wind changed just in time to save them and their home, however many more were not as lucky as the wind change saw a neighbouring town completely wiped out. “There is a relief mixed with a sense of guilt when you hear stories of loss and realise how lucky we were” Rachel continued.
Further south in Narooma, Dr Charmaine White explains that their whole community was devastated with many patients remaining on high alert for the whole year with cars packed and ready to go ‘just in case’ an evacuation call came again. “Our team listened to terrifying and sad stories of patients fighting to save their homes, their properties and pets, and dashes for safety that brought even the most stoic of local Farmers to tears in our dental chairs every day.”
And in a cruel blow, just when the fires seemed to be over, the Eurobodalla Shire was hit by flooding. One day they were fighting fires, the next they were battling flood waters and then COVID hit. For a community that is heavily reliant on tourism, COVID really was a final devastating blow to a community that was already at an extreme low point. Dr Charmaine explained “Many people in our community have committed suicide with fires, floods, and then COVID, it just became too much.”
Like the team in Moruya, the Maven Dental Narooma Team really went above and beyond with the care they showed their patients, with Charmaine calling them the ‘Resilient Team of Superheroes”, explaining that they handled themselves like true professionals.
One year on the recovery from the events of 2020 is far from over in the Eurobodalla Shire, with many who lost homes, property and livestock yet to commence rebuilding. Charmaine explains “Many of the 800 homes lost in the area are still to be built with over 500 properties and farms that needed refencing to protect livestock. So really the work to rebuild homes, re-adjust lives and families facing hardship every day is still far from over. There continues to be an alarmingly high rate of stress and mental health problems in the fire affected communities.”
Our practice teams continue to do what they can, with the Narooma team recently attending a Lifeline Suicide Awareness course as our teams continue to focus on supporting both their patients and each other.
While there are signs of recovery in the natural landscape, the Christmas just gone, for the second summer in a row the towns of Narooma, Moruya and Batemans Bay have endured a very quiet season with COVID travel restrictions meaning the normal crowds of tourists simply didn’t arrive. For an area heavily reliant on tourism, it’s not just hotels and attractions feeling the pain, but the small businesses such as the cafes, the stores and the independent petrol stations that are feeling it. The message is clear, these communities need us to visit again. “We need visitors to return to our towns or to look online at businesses located in the Eurobodalla Shire and buy from them”.
Despite the devastating stories of hardship, there are also inspiring stories of how the small communities came together to support each other. “There is hope coming back” says Rachel. “The ones who I admire are those who lost everything and are just getting on with it. It gives me strength and I am so grateful to be part of such a strong community. We just take it day by day. On the tough days we take it minute by minute, but most importantly we just band together and keep each other going.”
Don't go it alone. Please reach out for help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au
Beyond Blue's coronavirus support service: 1800 512 348 or coronavirus.beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890 or headspace.org.au