THE Manyana Matters Association is still a vibrant and committed environmental-based group and its commitment to save one of the land pieces of unburnt land in the Shoalhaven remains strong.
The group came into prominence last year when it started a campaign to stop a piece of land in Manyana from being developed.
Their struggle gained national recognition and many prominent environmentalists supported their efforts.
The Milton Ulladulla Times recently contacted the Manyana Matters Association spokesperson Jorj Lowrey to see how the campaign to save the land was going.
How are the negotiations going to get the land into the hands of the community progressing?
We seem to be in a bit of a stalemate with Rob Stokes' (Minister for Planning and Public Spaces) insisting Shoalhaven City Council be involved but SCC making it clear they want no part of it.
We have strong support from Mayor Findley and Councillors Gartner, Levett, Alldrick and Digiglio but Councillors Watson, Pakes, Guile, White, Gash, Proudfoot, Wells and Kitchener are steadfastly unwilling to support our efforts to preserve the land for wildlife, despite Stoke's practically handing them the money to do so.
We are in close contact with Stoke's and Matt Kean's (Minister for the Environment) offices and trust they will find a way to make it happen.
When do you expect to hear from the various bodies [courts governments] looking into this matter?
As you know, last year the Federal Department of Energy and Environment declared the project a "Controlled Action".
We await the proponent's response.
There is no timeframe they have to abide by.
Last year the association was very busy with various events - eg art on the fence day. Anything planned for this year?
We had a wonderful New Year's Eve event that we kept pretty quiet as it was immensely personal.
It was, of course, the exact one-year anniversary of fires first descending on our villages and we were keen to bring the community together to pause, reflect, listen, heal and also to give thanks.
There was an emotional paddle out where we formed a circle, said a few words and released flowers into the sea, mirrored by another circle of people on the sand.
We are currently giving our supporters a break while we are able to, but always have something creative up our sleeve - so watch this space.
You have been part of the campaign since day one - why?
I was born an animal lover and believe they have as much right to food, shelter and a peaceful life as we do.
Those fires broke my heart. It still bleeds for the millions of creatures that were killed, the injured ones that suffered the most agonising of deaths because no help arrived and the survivors who starved because there was nothing left to eat.
If we were talking about fellow human Australians here, we all would have done everything possible to help and would have ensured it never happened again.
Yet Fraser Island, WA and SA have just endured the same. The prospect of losing a perfectly good habitat to a housing development was completely unpalatable to me and I quickly found I was not alone.
I feel like I lost my innocence in those fires.
All the petty problems I thought I had in my life vanished overnight. I could no longer pretend we had time to make the hard changes we have to if we're all going to survive on this planet.
It's not a matter of us or them (humans vs flora and fauna), for, of course, we rely on healthy ecosystems, ie. biodiversity - to provide the food we eat, the water we drink and the very air we breathe. We make money king at our own peril.
I believe individuals must stand up for what they know to be right and true. No matter how small you think your voice may be or how hopeless the task may seem.
We have to use our voices to speak for those that have none and each accepts our part for where we are at this point in time on planet Earth.
Short-term thinking for the benefit of a few must be a thing of the past. We can all live well.
There is enough for everyone and everything.
Looking back since the campaign started - what do you think has been your major achievements?
The biggest achievement is that the forest is still standing! And of course, we are determined to see it remain that way forever.
Our vision is for it to be preserved as a Special Conservation Reserve under the National Parks and Wildlife Service in memory of all that was lost in the Currowan Megafire so it can always provide homes for wildlife.
A wonderful side benefit was that we came together as a community, got to know each other a hell of a lot better and helped each other get through one of the toughest years of our lives.
I also think Manyana Matters has been a ripple that has helped create a wave of awareness around sustainability issues in the Shoalhaven and further afield.
What are your views on your fellow association members? Describe what sort of people they are? They must be very passionate about this issue.
It is truly wonderful to be in the company of others who care enough about our wildlife, the Australian bush and a sustainable future to make it a priority in their lives.
The pool of experience, talent and skills amongst the group is impressive. We come from all walks of life, all ages, sexes, races, religious beliefs and political persuasions, so it's not always smooth sailing.
However, there is a mutual desire to learn, grow and make a difference which means our values align.
Some have lived in Manyana all their lives, some are newcomers, and some have only visited but we all share a deep love of the area. I'd say we are all climate change realists and have great respect for the original custodians of the land on which we live, who managed Country in balance for many thousands of years.
We marked the first anniversary of the brutal Black Summer bushfires recently - what is your memory of this event?
I was not in Manyana for the fires. I was on holiday on New Years Eve when it razed Conjola Park, jumped Lake Conjola to Chinamans' Island then over to Cunjurong Point.
I remember being very anxious because the Fires Near Me app hadn't been keeping up and as it turned out, people were blindsided.
This was when our weary and small local RFS crew first saved Manyana and our precious forest on the outskirts of the village. However, my friends up on Bendalong Mountain and in the Nerringillah Valley were not so lucky.
The fire just kept hitting them again and again, with every wind change. A few phone calls found they'd banded together and managed to save most property.
The fire burnt down into the gullies and rivers. Even the rainforest burnt. That's how dry the landscape was. I quickly found myself behind the keyboard of the Manyana Matters Facebook page I had started a few years earlier, for hours on end, relaying questions between people stuck in the Red Head Villages without power and their friends and family outside.
I then became a conduit between complete strangers offering assistance, and what was needed for those caught inside. Everyone just rallied.
By January 4, the fires came back from the North, and I had discovered how to tune into the live RFS feed online. So I heard in real-time blow-by-blow accounts from the air and on the ground from those on the front line of the fire's assault on North Bendalong, then its race toward Manyana.
I had grave fears for my friends and family with nowhere to go except the ocean with suffocating smoke overhead. I thought my house was a goner. I desperately wanted to be there to help but felt completely helpless.
When I heard a fiery say ".there are a massive amount of properties being impacted now" then a more pressing "We need an immediate water strike ... otherwise, we're going to lose multiple homes here" followed by a call saying the aerial support had to leave because of the poor visibility over the town, I broke down.
I thought it was game over. Miraculously, just a few minutes later, a Southerly kicked in and the houses and people survived.
However, I couldn't stop weeping for the animals. The loss of my little friends who used to visit my garden, and those I'd never see again in the bush. Really special animals and birds you don't often get to see, like the Southern Emu-Wren, Square-Tailed Kite and Greater Glider. Had we lost the soothing calls of the Boo-Book Owls forever?
Later we learned that our local wildlife carer couple had been airlifted to Sydney with life-threatening burns and I couldn't believe how cruel a twist of fate that was.
As an environmentally minded person - have we learned anything from last year's bushfire season that might protect us in the future?
Anyone who thinks the fires are "normal" and not related to a climate crisis just need to check out the facts on the NASA website. Easy to read graphs, tables and charts.
Five minutes invested in your education and you're on board, knowing that unless we act drastically and immediately, we need to prepare for more fire and flood. Planet Earth is completely out of balance and I hope enough people realise we have to restore it urgently.
Trees are not the enemy. The Greens are not the enemy. Power lines are not the enemy.
We are in a war with ourselves over how much is enough. Our old, disrespectful ways of treating Country have to change. You wouldn't build a house on shonky foundations so why do we expect Earth to hold up when we've undermined hers so dreadfully?
I think we're more open now to listening to and learning from the wisdom of Indigenous Australians. Not before time! I also really hope we've learned to take preparation for bushfire a lot more seriously.
Each homeowner needs to either be able to properly defend their own property (without power, town water, and the RFS) or commit to getting out early. There just aren't enough firefighters to save everyone and our Government doesn't seem interested in investing in more fire bombers (only bomb bombers).