Listen: Helen Schaefer of Cobargo talks to Sam and Duncan. Above: Helen, her husband Wayne and their daughter Leah, are glad to have each other.
By Clare BruceTuesday 11 Feb 2020
After weeks of devastation, relief is landing in bushfire-ravaged Cobargo.
Over 300mm of rain this week has flooded the rivers, put out the fires and filled the tanks and dams; funds are pouring in from appeals; volunteers are rebuilding farm fences; and and all kinds of practical items have been donated to help families get back on their feet—including water filters.
The Christian charity Voice of the Martyrs has donated 20 high strength water filtration systems, usually sent to villages in developing nations, which will help people living on isolated properties whose water sources have been contaminated due to the drought and fires.
The Hope 103.2 Street Team – now more of a “Highway Team” – headed south last week to deliver the filters, and meet some of the families impacted.
Trapped in a House for Days
Among the recipients of the water filters were John and Sandra Taylor, a couple who live in an isolated area and had a lot of fire damage to their property.
Hope team member Lucy Weil, who visited the couple on their property, said it was sobering to sit and listen over a cup of tea to their story of survival – trapped in a house filled with smoke, listening to the roar of the fire at 2am, “unable to see their hand in front of their face”, and not knowing what they’d lost.
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“They were trapped in their house for days,” Lucy said, “because the trees kept falling, and they didn’t know whether they were safe.”
“The water filter will make such a big difference – [so they can] stay on the property and begin to rebuild.”
The couple lost their shed with their tools and are now struggling to access support services, finding it tiring having to constantly re-tell their story. They don’t have access to any drinking water, and have been relying on bottled water that’s being delivered to them by locals and friends every day. Their new water filtration system will make a big difference.
“This water filter allows them to move off bottled water… and be able to use some of the water that’s in their tanks,” said Lucy. “They said it’s going to help so much – it will make such a big difference being able to stay on the property and begin to rebuild.”
River Water is Now Contaminated
Another couple to receive a water filtration system were Helen and Wayne Schaefer, who managed to save their home in the fires, but have also been living off bottled water since.
Speaking to Sam and Duncan, they explained that the river they draw their water from is contaminated due to the fires, and will be undrinkable for a long time.
“We live on the Yowrie River water, which, prior to this, has just been a beautiful source of water,” she said. “It’s pristine.
“Now because of the heat and the ash, there’s dead fish. Animals have died in it, and wildlife… so it’s completely contaminated. It’s only good for washing in and washing clothes.
“So we’ve been living on bottled water… [and] if we do get this rain, there’s going to be an enormous amount of erosion, and silt, and contamination.
“What [this water filter] means for us is that we’re no longer dealing with bottled water, which is great. It will mean that we can use the water that we have, literally on tap, and be able to drink it with confidence.”
Helen said that the rains of the past week have put out the bushfires, but have also washed a lot of ash and silt and topsoil into the rivers – making them black and undrinkable. She said the water filters had caused a lot of excitement for herself and her neighbours, in a time when they needed a boost – and it was also a reminder that people care.
“It’s massive… It’s going to be a very long time before we have a potable water source on hand. And this will give it to us. It’s amazing. We’ve been using it already and It’s the first time we’ve been able to drink the river water since the fires.”
A Community Grieving
Sadly, like many Cobargo locals, Helen and Wayne are mourning the loss of Robert and Patrick Salway – the father-and-son who were killed trying to save their home from fire.
They are relatives of the Salway family, and were with Patrick’s brothers the night the fires came through.
“We expected to be fighting grass fire and embers… we had no idea of the rapidity or the ferocity with which it was going to hit us,” Helen said. “At about 1:30am we had Tim and Aaron Salway around… Timmy had about 175 of his jersey cattle next door to us. They’d been out there thinking about what to do, they came up, had a drink, had a bit of a chat to my husband, and said ‘Oh, I’d better get home, I’m going to have to get up and start milking soon’. Even then we still didn’t realise that it was going to hit only two hours later.
“Within two and a half hours we were in the middle of a fire storm and burnt—and Tim and Aaron had lost their father and their brother.”
“Within two and a half hours we were in the middle of a fire storm and burnt—and Tim and Aaron had lost their father and their brother. It happened that quick. All of a sudden it was on four sides that we could see. It just swept in like nothing we’ve ever seen or heard before.”
Thanks to fastidious preparation – filling tanks, plugging gutters, heavily soaking everything in water, and removing everything combustible – their home was saved. But Wayne’s cousin lost everything on her 400 acres, while his sister lost her house in Cobargo, too.
Ironically, their daughter Leah and pets had gone to shelter there, assuming it would be safer: “While we were fighting it here, Gayle’s house was going up in smoke,” Helen said. “They were running out the back while it was on fire in the front.”
Prayer and Faith are Helping Them Cope
Helen said it’s her faith that has helped her through the last couple of traumatic months.
“We are strong believers, Wayne and our daughters and myself, and we do hold onto that bit in Romans where it says ‘God works all things together for the good of those who love Him,” she said.
“We’re praying a lot, that’s for sure. One of my favourite Psalms is, ‘I look to the mountains, where will my help come from? [My help comes from the Lord]’… Psalm 121 – there’s been a fair bit of that going on!
“It’s just taking one day at a time, making sure we do something each day, and move forward, focus on what we have – which is each other.”
“My mantra lately within our family is just ‘be patient and kind’ – with the people you come across, but also with ourselves. Everybody’s been through it. A lot of people have been through a lot worse than we have, and we often think of the Salways, of course, who we’re actually related to… they’ve lost three generations, within a very short time.
“I think it’s just taking one day at a time, making sure we do something each day, and move forward, focus on what we have, which is each other.”
She is asking people of faith to pray for their community – that they “will continue to be patient and kind with each other”, and that they will find hope in Jesus.