ALS field officer on the importance of yarning up following bushfires
The little bit of rain we’ve been getting will do little to put out these fires.
For Michelle Jessop, Field Officer, Aboriginal Legal Service Moruya office on Yuin Country, the drizzle is nowhere near enough to do what’s necessary to put out the Clyde Mountain fire and Badja Forest Rd fires still burning out of control.
“Cooling weather is helping contain the fires but it won’t put them out,” she said, “unless we get some really good rain.”
South of Batemans Bay, Moruya has for weeks been surrounded by the blazes that are destroying towns all along the coast. The fires’ intensity peaked over the New Year period and into the weekend, but they are far from done even with the current cooler weather.
“The firies were saying we can’t put it out. We haven’t got enough people to put it out,” Michelle said, reflecting on the lack of resources – not only to fight the fires but to help towns and communities get back on the feet once the danger has passed.
Michelle said the fires were just the beginning for Moruya and surrounding towns. The town has escaped the worst of fire damage but not the havoc that came after.
“It’s the knock on effects. It’s been a disaster,” she said, stressing the importance of talking with people and staying close to friends and family as one of the best ways to get through the worst of it.
During the fires Moruya and other South Coast towns were cut off in various ways for days. Roads were blocked which meant no food or fuel could be trucked in. Some areas, like parts of Batemans Bay, Bermagui and surrounds have been without power, since New Year’s Eve. TV and phone line connections have been patchy. Michelle said for much of the past week the internet and social media has been the main connection to the outside world.
“You don’t want to be on social media but you don’t have a choice. Internet is the only thing we have to get [information and news] out there,” Michelle said. But when that goes, “You sort of feel blocked off from the rest of the world.”
That’s why she stressed the importance of talking and interacting with those around you, making sure people are feeling well and thinking well. It can often take days, sometimes weeks, for trauma to rise to the surface. It’s vital that family and community voices are heard and that Aboriginal people are encouraged to talk.
With some towns and communities cut off and fires still burning out of control, many courts down south are closed for the week and possibly longer. This includes Batemans Bay, Bega, Nowra, Narooma, Eden, Milton, Moruya, Cooma and Tumbarumba. The Moruya ALS office is also closed and the Mogo Aboriginal Land Council has been burnt to the ground, with other community members also losing their homes.
“The highway was open...and I drove to Batemans Bay,” Jessop said after making a trip from Moruya earlier this week. “It was devastating, so much has been burnt and still smoulders.”
Michelle said that given the time of year it’s likely there are some clients who have “left town and have no way of getting back”. She encouraged anyone with any concerns about court dates to get in touch with ALS.
For now, Michelle said everyone in the community is pitching in but people are exhausted as peoples’ patience and resources are stretched. Communicating with those around you can be one of the best ways to let off some pressure.
“Everyone’s been out helping, it’s been really hard,” Michelle said, suggesting the best way forward is with cooperation and unity.
“Stay with each other. Talk to each other, be with family. That way you can pool your resources.”
ALS CEO Karly Warner said that with the devastating bushfires up and down the state over the past few months, ALS staff have a role to play in supporting the community and raising voices of community on the front line of the struggle.
“Some of our staff and board of directors have been forced to leave or defend their homes due to the threat of the fires and the smoke. I’m sorry for the horror you are continuing to face right now” she said.
Karly advised “the ALS will continue to provide culturally safe legal help to our communities during this time of need. We know that emotional, cultural and financial stress as a result of these fires will undoubtedly lead to an increase for our high-quality support and we must be ready”.
“We know that during times of emergency and mobilisation of government resources our communities can be overlooked. The ALS looks forward to working with governments to provide the extra resources that Aboriginal communities need.”
”We each have a role to play to make sure that our communities are getting the support that they need. We must continue to elevate the voices of those, especially our Elders, on the frontline.”
The ALS strongly encourages all community members to stay up to date with information from the NSW Rural Fire Service. The NSW RFS website for ‘Fires Near Me’ link is: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me. Alternatively, you can call NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.
For legal assistance, contact us on one of our toll free numbers:
1800 765 767 for police charges and court matters
1800 733 233 for care and protection and family matters
If you've been affected by the bushfires and need additional legal help, you can also call the Disaster Response Legal Service NSW: 1800 801 529
Subject to any change in the current fire conditions on the South Coast, courthouses at Nowra, Milton, Batemans Bay, Bega, Narooma, Moruya and Cooma will reopen from Monday, 13 January 2020 with sittings to resume as normal.
Magistrates are sensitive to the hardships facing South Coast communities at this time. If you have a court matter, but it is not safe for you to travel or you are unable to get to court, please contact the Courts Service Centre on 1300 679 272 from 8:30am-4:30pm weekdays.
For up to date information on court openings please see: http://www.courts.justice.nsw.gov.au/