Burnt out 14 months ago, Kiah resident celebrates new home, community kindness

HOME AT LAST: Kiah resident Annette Evelyn has moved into her new house 14 months after the devastating Black Summer fires tore through the locality and destroyed her former home, along with about 40 others. Photo: Ruth Maddison
HOME AT LAST: Kiah resident Annette Evelyn has moved into her new house 14 months after the devastating Black Summer fires tore through the locality and destroyed her former home, along with about 40 others. Photo: Ruth Maddison

Fourteen months after losing her home to the Black Summer bushfires, Kiah resident Annette Evelyn has finally moved into her new house and says she is grateful for the support of the local community, which kept her going throughout that period.

A resident in the area for 30 years, Annette's Californian-style bungalow on the 10-acre property was right on the Towamba River and built by the Whiter brothers in 1947, the first house they were commissioned to build after the Seahorse Inn.

Annette prepared to evacuate when it became obvious the threat was both imminent and intense.

"When the fires came through I was at Edrom Lodge, my friends insisted I stay there," she said.

"The guests had left and the focus was on securing and preparing the lodge, we twisted up wet towels for the doors so ashes and embers couldn't blow in."

Upper Kiah Road after the impact of the Border Fire on January 4, 2020. Photo: Ruth Maddison

Upper Kiah Road after the impact of the Border Fire on January 4, 2020. Photo: Ruth Maddison

As the smoke and darkness descended, four adults and six children bunkered down in the lunch room at the navy wharf, which the chipmill was using as a safety area.

"We took mattresses and food, we thought it was the safest place, all concrete and about 500 metres offshore," Annette said.

"After midnight we saw the fires come straight around and down on to Fisheries Beach and up to Edrom, it was so smoky we couldn't see the lodge, plus our eyes were watering constantly.

"It went up the hill and into the chipmill. There were half a dozen employees over on the chipmill wharf, they couldn't get out and called the water police.

I knew my house had burnt down. We had to remain calm for the kids, we just kept telling them, 'we are OK, we are all together'.

Annette Evelyn

"When the Victorian water police rescued them we went too and were taken to Eden main wharf where we stayed until being evacuated to Merimbula the next morning.

"I was just numb, I knew my house had burnt down.

"We had to remain calm for the kids, we just kept telling them, 'we are OK, we are all together', and they came out of it really well," Annette said.

Having stored a few items underneath Edrom Lodge, Annette had a few precious items remaining after the fires.

AFTER THE FIRES: The ruins of Annette Evelyn's home, which was built in 1947 by the Whiter brothers. Photo: Ruth Maddison

AFTER THE FIRES: The ruins of Annette Evelyn's home, which was built in 1947 by the Whiter brothers. Photo: Ruth Maddison

The kindness of the community was displayed in many ways after the shock and loss Annette endured.

"I am so lucky. I had help from so many people in Eden, it was just incredible. New friendships were formed," she said.

"It's a great feeling to know you are such a part of a community, it just keeps you going.

"Everywhere I went people were checking up to make sure I was OK and that I didn't need anything."

HUMBLED: Kiah resident Annette Evelyn said she has been overwhelmed by the ongoing support of the Eden community since losing her home in the Black Summer fires. Photo: Leah Szanto

HUMBLED: Kiah resident Annette Evelyn said she has been overwhelmed by the ongoing support of the Eden community since losing her home in the Black Summer fires. Photo: Leah Szanto

A driven person who prefers to be kept busy, Annette worked towards creating a new home.

"Others were interested, and it made them feel good to see you getting on with things, to see something good could come from the fires."

"Once the remains were cleared and we had a clean slate, a layer had been removed and I thought, 'now we can move on'.

192,489 hectares of bush were impacted when the Border Fire roared north on Saturday, January 4, 2020. The locality of Kiah lost about 40 homes. Photo: Ruth Maddison

192,489 hectares of bush were impacted when the Border Fire roared north on Saturday, January 4, 2020. The locality of Kiah lost about 40 homes. Photo: Ruth Maddison

"I liked the design of the old house and told the architect I wanted it to be north facing and to work in with the surroundings.

"I chose the tiles the same colour as the river sand - I more or less wanted to worship the river," Annette said.

A comprehensive fire protection system was part of the house design, with sprinklers over the roof and three fire reels. Annette also chose a concrete slab rather than the previous stumps, as fire had gotten under the old house, where others she knew with slabs had survived.

"Having been there and seen, I didn't want that to happen again," she said.

A tree burl gifted to Annette by Cedric Cox was then hand chiselled by Robert Whiter to create a hand basin for her new home. Photo: supplied

A tree burl gifted to Annette by Cedric Cox was then hand chiselled by Robert Whiter to create a hand basin for her new home. Photo: supplied

Annette said the development approval for her new home went through quickly and every person who worked on the build was a local.

"It made me feel good giving a bit back to the local economy... and I've really ended up with a beautiful home."

Among the gifts given to Annette after the fires were re-created artworks which had been burnt, as well as new ones, but the biggest gift was the support of the Eden community.

"Whenever there are dramas or major issues, they just pull together. They are still just so supportive."

Read also:

Comments

Discuss "Burnt out 14 months ago, Kiah resident celebrates new home, community kindness"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.