Featured Story

Bega Valley Water Tank Project is Bringing Life Back after ‘Black Summer’

This feature article was written by Newsroom contributor Elsi Wolff

Who can forget the devastating Australian bushfires of 2019-2020, known as Black Summer, that burnt over 24 million hectares of land, destroyed over 3000 homes, killed 33 people and an estimated three billion animals were killed or displaced?

For the residents of the Bega Shire in south-east NSW, Australia, the devastation can still be seen two years on. 58 percent of the Bega Valley was destroyed by fire including 448 homes as well as four lives lost.

After a request was received in mid-2020 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the chairman of the Bega Shire Recovery Committee, and after evaluating the situation on the ground, a partnership was formed.

The Bega Shire Council, Latter-day Saint Charities (which is the humanitarian arm of the Church) and the Pambula/Merimbula Rotary Club worked together to provide 66 water tanks to selected recipients in the Bega Shire community.

Water is essential for life and sanitation and was one of the needs that became lost in the myriad of other needs which families and individuals had to focus on to rebuild their lives. Many landowners lost almost everything they owned – their homes and contents, outbuildings, vehicles, water tanks and pumps, equipment, orchards, animals and fences.

Since landowners in remote areas were not on town water and relied on water pumped from local streams or bores, or roofs to collect rainwater which was then collected in tanks, after the fires they had no water supplies. Many were relying on 1000L water cubes which were filled from water tanker deliveries, or by the landowner mounting the cube onto a truck and going into a nearby town to be refilled. 1000L does not go far, even when it is being used mainly for drinking, cooking and basic hygiene, and is costly.

Mark and Denise Hamstead (Humanitarian and Emergency Preparedness specialists for the Church in NSW and Canberra) coordinated the project with Lynne Koerbin, and Daryl and Angie Dobsons (Rotary Club’s community service directors) to identify families who were most in need.

The first tanks were ordered from local suppliers and delivered to the first of the recipients in early 2021.

The last orders were placed in mid-2021 but due to Covid restrictions and ‘lockdowns’, a number were not delivered until late 2021.

Brother and Sister Hamstead, assisted by Brother and Sister Cummins (representing the Canberra Stake Presidency) and Elder Robert Simpson (Area Seventy) and Sister Simpson, visited a number of the recipients on their properties in early December 2021.

There were many heart-rending stories behind this project. Here are just three examples which also demonstrate the resilience of so many.

Gordon and Susie are a down-to-earth couple living in a small hut on their land after the bushfires completely destroyed their home in late 2019. They had no access to running water and the donation of the water tank was very welcome.

“More than anything, they appreciated the fact that someone cared,” reported Brother Cummins.

A single man, Jamie, who also received a water tank, had moved to the Valley from Canberra shortly before the fires. His home was completely destroyed. He, like many others, has never fully recovered emotionally from the fires and feels very much alone. The fact that people cared enough to donate a much-needed water tank and visit him to see how he was progressing had a positive impact on him.

Jamie is now building his own house on his property with whatever items of material he can find. From time-to-time friends donate materials, but it is a slow process – he is doing it largely by himself, with the occasional help from professional friends. He is planning to position the water tank next to the new house once completed.

Zoe and Michael are a young couple with two young children. Previous to the fires, they were living in a small town in the Bega Valley called Cobargo. They had purchased a remote rural property complete with house and other property structures and an orchard and were about to move when the fires destroyed both their rural property and their house in Cobargo. Since the fires they have been living rough, ‘camping' in a borrowed caravan on the rural property. They were the recipients of a tank, a shed (donated by another group) and a bathroom pod built into the shed and connected to the water tank (which will be added to their house when it is rebuilt).

Even though the location of the shed and tank is quite a distance from their current ‘camp,’ they are very appreciative as they can now bathe their children properly - one of whom had been regularly ill, and one had had a broken leg. They report that as a result of the newly donated infrastructure there has been a reduction in their anxiety levels. They also report that the distance is not a problem to them, because by the time the children are bathed and they drive back to their campsite, the children are asleep.

Mark and Denise noted, “During the inspection weekend we were shown properties, such as Zoe and Michael’s, which had not only received one of our tanks, but the households had also received a bathroom pod and shed donated by another organisation which had been willing to provide the pods because we had provided the tanks.” The water tanks were attached to the sheds and their combined function is to collect rainwater to provide the families with bathroom facilities and drinking water.

Needless to say, no good deed goes unnoticed and often precipitates additional help from others.

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