Like all Australians, I was stunned by the ferocity of the summer mega-fires of 2019| 2020 that ravaged much of Australia’s eastern and southern coasts including the Southern Highlands. What’s more, the total devastation was utterly heartbreaking.

I cried when people lost their lives; lost their homes and businesses. I was also in total despair over the decimation of over one billion wildlife not to mention the natural habitats. All around Morton National Park and Werai State Forest, there were just miles upon miles of black, ghostly stumps; a montage of skeletal sentinels without even a skirret of green to be seen. Regardless, I scoured the forest pathways and former nature trails. There were no living creatures to be found — not even a birdsong.

Like many Australians, I wanted to roll up my sleeves and help with the recovery efforts. Just after the Currowan fires ravaged Bundanoon, Exeter and Werai, I joined forces with my close friend, journalist Jennifer from Journeys & Conversations to set up feeding stations for displaced wildlife throughout the long dry and blistering hot month of January.

An animal and wildlife advocate, Jennifer had long engaged in digital and promotional volunteer work for Native Wildlife Rescue, a local rescue and rehabilitation organisation. On this occasion, she liaised directly with Michael, the Store Manager from Harris Farm and Grant, the Store Manager from Woolworths to collect the daily leftover [but quality] vegetables, fruit and greens. Both were not only supportive but very generous.

Each night and early morning, we did separate shifts and began dispersing the food and setting up water bowls around the region. I also approached IGA in Moss Vale and the store was equally supportive of our efforts.

Jennifer and I scoured forest pathways; we looked for mobs of roos, koalas, wallabies and roaming wombats  any signs of life in bushland, reserves and along country roads. Jennifer also fed the roos near Old South Head Road and in Werai State Forest while I focused on another mob off Suttor Road. We also set up feeding stations in several reserves. Before long, possums snacked on apples while other wildlife including flying foxes and sugar gliders feasted on a variety of produce. And our water bowls and emergency supplies were never far away.

We likewise boxed up food for Native Wildlife Rescue so that Richard “Woody” Woodman could deliver fruit to Shoalhaven Bat Clinic in Bomaderry. In fact, a wide mix of residents joined in the wildlife relief effort; many also queuing up at Woolworths, IGA, Coles and Harris Farm in the early hours of the day. Other businesses including Suzie Anderson Homes got behind some incredible fundraising programs to support the NSW RFS Southern Highlands brigade or Red Cross.

It was indeed a community effort by all.

I just wanted to extend my sincere thanks to these fantastic store managers and their staff for their generosity and support. Grant, thank you also for the feed boxes, bowls, towels, water bottles and emergency kit. Likewise to Jennifer.

Now that the rains have fallen and the land has begun to regenerate, we may have a chance to take stock and rethink our fire policies along with the crisis we’re facing with climate change.

The devastation is truly irrefutable. So much was lost this past summer, but not our spirits. Let the full recovery begin.


Below: Wildlife produce from Woolworths