THE need for a recovery group at Conjola, following the devastating bushfire, was an obvious move for Kim Harper.
Kim was the driving force behind the formation of the Conjola Recovery Group, which is still going close to six months after the New Years Eve disaster, that left a sad wake of destruction.
"I was devastated by what has happened to the community and I have lived here since I was a young teenager," Kim said.
"I could see the need [for a recovery group] because the food was coming into the beach via boats from Sussex and Sanctuary Point and the people at the top of the lake were not receiving anything and there were still a lot of people up there.
"They were all devastated and did not know what was up or what was down."
Kim organised a community meeting and volunteers were asked to help make sure the support went where it needed to go.
Several people approached her afterwards and said: "we are here to help".
Kim thought the community-led group would only need to be around for a limited time but close to six months down the track, the group still exists.
Look around the Conjola area and you can see why they need for the recovery group remains.
To see the damage the bushfire did to her village hit Kim and many others hard.
"When we drove down to the lake [following the bushfire] I burst into tears," Kim said.
"I was saying 'it's all gone - it's all gone' and then I could see the roof of our house."
Their house did not burn down but because of the amount of asbestos contamination it suffered, their house is unlivable at the moment.
"All the neighbours' houses were gone and it's instantly that guilt - why did all the houses around us burn down and ours did not," she asked.
Then seeing the devastation of the bush also got to her.
She said there was nothing left and all the animals were dead.
Her mind then started to focus on recovery.
Kim had simple goals when she first started the recovery group.
"My main goal was to make sure everyone was safe and they were getting supplies through to everyone - top and bottom of the lake," she said.
People were then asked to register with them so they could account for people's safety and whereabouts.
The likes of Lindy and Peter Dunn helped form the group.
"I got it going and these guys [all the volunteers] did the hard yards," she said.
She can now look back and say the recovery group and its dedicated volunteers did an amazing job.
A core group of 20 volunteers led the community on its path to recovery.
Then the donations of food, clothing, blankets, quilts and much more came rolling in and the Conjola Community Hall was full.
The recovery is still an ongoing process.
Kim said getting people access to counselling was one of their main priorities now.
"We've had the worst year," she said.
Then the community and recovery group had to deal with COVID-19.
"With coronavirus, people have been isolated right on top of their grief," Kim said.
"It [coronavirus] just stopped us in our tracks."
The group could not go to people, people could not come to them and Kim said it stopped all sorts of support mechanisms.
On top of it all - the village was flooded earlier this year.
"It has just been a crazy year," she said.
Zoom meetings came in handy at the first stage of the pandemic, donations were still coming in and vouchers given to the people.
"We were there ringing and contacting people - we tried to work our way around it," she said.
Social media also became part of the recovery process, especially as a communication tool.
The group still has things it wants to do in the future, depending on the COVID situation.
"A lot of people are still numb because it's such a big process and it's not like one house burnt down - it was a huge disaster," she said.
"It has changed everything. It has changed where we live and the lake will never be the same.
"In our lifetimes, it won't look the same as it was for the last 100 years.
"I look at the lake and it makes me sad."
Her 80-year-old mother does not like coming home to Conjola anymore.
Kim said a few people were still living in caravans but was not aware of any rough sleepers.
She thinks Christmas might be stressful for many people.
"We are all in holiday rentals that would have already been booked for Christmas and the insurance companies are only playing for our accommodation for 12 months from the event," she said.
"December 31 is the cut off date for insurance companies paying your rent and if you are in a holiday rental you are looking at $800 a week or more. Who can afford to pay that?
"People are starting to worry about it and some might have to sleep rough.
"With this accommodation uncertainty facing the community, Kim said "yes" the group will need to keep ongoing.
She said the volunteers were exhausted but they won't abandon their community.
"Originally we said we would keep on going until everyone is back in their homes and settled," Kim said.
"It's a great feeling to help your community.
"Lake Conjola is a place of tears this year."
It's also the place of hope, friendship, support and resilience.