BY: Liz Campbell, Kempsey Mayor
THE deepest impression I carry with me of the Carrai East fires in November is sensory overload. I have so many overlapping recollections from my days at the evacuation centre. The trauma in people's eyes, the physical exhaustion you could see them carrying, the incredible bravery I both witnessed and heard about and the extraordinary generosity of the people of our valley. We've always known it, but to see it was incredible. The sights and stories affect you and you take on a little bit of each story and it's very emotional. I've never been prouder to be a leader of this community. I've also never felt so humbled.
These were days that were filled with people giving everything of themselves to help - firefighters leaving their homes to fight other fronts and neighbours and strangers opening their doors and their hearts. We had council workers doing long shifts trying to reopen roads, only to don their RFS outfits as soon as their 'day job' ended so they could take their place on the front line. In those first weeks, myself, fellow councillors and the dedicated response team of Council staff focused on talking to people, listening, discovering their needs, making decisions and connecting people. Then trying to ensure locals got the immediate help they needed. That initial response is only the first of many steps as the road to recovery for the Macleay is a long one and we must be ready for that. Just know that council will be there to support the community through response, recovery and recognition.
As responders, we will of course remain vigilant for the duration of the fire season, but now the focus shifts to recovery. Like many, I know the community will come out of this disaster with as many positives as we possibly can as we rebuild and recover. While we prove our resilience and begin to move on, it's important to recognise this will be an emotional journey. We need to allow ourselves to feel sudden and significant surges of grief, anger and loss. And we must look out for our friends and our community. If I could ask you all to do one thing, it is to keep on reaching out - check-in with people in the weeks and months to come.
There is also a genuine need for recognition. There will come a time when we as a community will have the chance to come together and thank those who were fighting fires and helping those affected. We won't move on without saying a big thank you to the RFS and the people who have gotten us through. For now, I say thank you - to everyone who fought and helped, to my council colleagues and staff who stepped up beyond the call of duty and to my community who proved there is no greater place to live.