One year on from the start of the devastating Currowan Mega-Fire, residents and visitors to the villages of Manyana, Bendalong, North Bendalong, Cunjurong Point and Berringer Lake are still experiencing trauma caused by the events of last summer.
This conclusion came from a landmark survey conducted by Manyana Matters Environmental Association (MMEA) with funding from the Australian Mutuals Foundation and Business Council of Cooperatives and Mutuals.
The MMEA has released the findings as the NSW South Coast marks 12 months since the deadly Currowan fire that was ignited by a lightning strike on 26 November 26 2019.
The fire burned out of control for 74 days, hitting the Red Head Villages on January 1 and January 4.
More than 80 per cent of the Shoalhaven's National Parks were burnt, some 3,000 residents and holidaymakers were evacuated from the villages and millions of native animals perished in the fire.
While there is some data about the impact of the 2003 Canberra fires, as far as the MMEA knows, no similar survey is yet to explore the mental health impacts of the Black Summer fires on affected communities.
MMEA's survey was undertaken to better understand the nature of trauma and recovery, and invited respondents to reflect on how they felt before, during and after the fires.
While responses revealed a variety of stages of recovery across all age groups, the survey concluded the community has not yet properly healed and there is still much trauma leading up to the next fire season.
"A vast majority of participants reported they still feel sadness at the loss caused by the fires. Many are worried about the future and want to be better prepared," said Larraine Larri, survey lead, local social researcher and member of the MMEA.
The report also found the COVID-19 pandemic has added to people's worry and distress and potentially set back the recovery process.
The survey revealed a close connection between residents and holidaymakers and the environment, with many linking the healing process to recovery of the natural landscape.
When invited to provide suggestions for recovery activities, many responses were directly related to caring for Country and these included tree planting, a community garden, guided bushwalks and cultural burning.
MMEA spokesperson Jorj Lowrey says the survey findings reinforce the group's commitment to preventing further loss of native habitat.
"Our community has already lost so much," Ms Lowrey said.
"Given these survey findings, it's essential for our mental health and wellbeing that the forest that survived the fire continues to grow, and the animals that survived it still have somewhere to live. That's why our community is determined to keep our precious unburnt forest safe from the bulldozers, so that we can continue to heal."
The MMEA plans to share the survey findings with organisations providing mental health support to those impacted by the fires. The group is considering activities in 2021 to aid recovery in the community.
MMEA acknowledges that the prospect of this land being cleared is having a profound impact on the mental health of people within our community and beyond.
The MMEA encourages those experiencing distress to reach out to Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 or LifeLine on 13 11 14 for support.
About Manyana Matters Environmental Association
The Manyana Matters Environmental Association exists to preserve, protect and enhance the natural, social and cultural environment of Bendalong, North Bendalong, Manyana, Cunjurong Point, Berringer, and the surrounding Conjola National Park.
MMEA also aims to ensure a sustainable future for the plant, animal and human communities of this region, and to champion and support broader environmental campaigns throughout NSW and Australia.
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