THE stories told in a special publication focusing on the bushfire crisis are strong, personal, heartbreaking and above all - courageous.
'Bushfire Stories Black Summer 2019-20' was officially launched today [Thursday April 29] by Federal Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips at the Ulladulla Civic Centre.
The book, published by U3A Northern Illawarra Incorporated, features stories, poems and reflections written by people from the Shoalhaven and South Coast who were caught up in the crisis.
The suggestion for collecting these bushfire stories came from Margaret Stratton, the then U3A South Coast Regional Representatives.
She was prompted by reading a letter in the Sydney Morning Herald which stressed the importance of allowing and encouraging those affected by disasters to express their thoughts and feelings about fear and loss experienced during the event.
Many people who lost their homes or were caught up in the blaze took up the opportunity to write something for the book, including Conjola Park residents Marilyn Schoonderwoerd and Cecily and Roger Paris.
Marilyn and Cecily read passages from their chapters at the launch - they captivated the audience in the process.
While they lost their homes, both Marilyn and Cecily put their own misfortune aside to talk about the many acts of kindness that came their way.
Marilyn recalls how people gave her food, money and comfort when her emotions flowed.
However, under the heading, 'The Good, the Bad and the just plain Ugly' Marilyn told the audience about some shocking acts.
"Despite the roadblock at the highway, looters and lookers found their way in [to Conjola] even before residents were allowed to return," Marilyn told the stunned audience.
Cecily and Roger, in amongst the destruction and despair, also remember the people who were there to help them.
"Our recovery has been amazing really, due largely to the incredible help and support we have received from every avenue," Cecily and Roger wrote in their chapter.
Margaret Stratton is proud she played a role in giving people the chance to write about their experiences.
"I had the idea, but I did not do all the work. I had a wonderful band of people involved," she said.
The book is proving to be popular and the first print run of 60 went fast and more were printed.
Copies have been donated to all the local libraries and they will not be sold in bookshops.
The Federal Member for Gilmore was only too pleased to launch the book.
Mrs Phillips described the book as a collaboration of friendship and spirit.
She added the publication captures the help and the support that come from the crisis.
"Be proud of this book," Mrs Phillips said to all those who took part in the publication.