Rotund and confident, this season’s pumpkins sprouting in abundance in Norelle and David’s vegetable garden is no ordinary crop. These pumpkins have quite literally emerged out of the ashes.
Pumpkins love to grow in ash. And here, near the small NSW Northern Rivers village of Nymboida, there is plenty.
A fire storm tore through the region in early November 2019, destroying over 80 homes, including Norelle and David’s half-built dream home.
“There was not one blade of grass, not one green leaf for as far as we could see, it was just black. We thought that’s not going to be mentally healthy, not one little bit,” Norelle explains.
So just two weeks after they lost everything - the building they were living in, the home they were building, every pot, pan, cup, their fruit trees and the beauty of their patch of land - Norelle and David started replanting their vegetable garden.
“We thought there’s got to be something positive to come up here. To start cleaning up and looking at what our life is going to look like again, we had to have something positive. So that’s why we did it.”
Norelle and David had a simple dream, to build a modest home on their land. They wanted somewhere their family – Trent their son, and daughter Tess and her husband Dan and their gorgeous daughter – could visit.
“Somewhere they could get out of the city and out in amongst the grass and the trees, bring the dogs. It would be a retreat for our friends who live in the city and our family. But done simply and sustainably so we weren’t over attached financially, but also being very environmental.
Norelle uses one of the smallest words to describe their large loss.
“It was sad. It was just really, really sad. I don’t think there was any other way to explain it. All that we lived in, all that we were building, all the trees, my veggie garden, everything.
“That lingers and it still lingers and we still remember something that’s not there now. Sad, that simple little word really does explain it all.”
What has helped is their community.
“I’m not going to say we haven’t been shell-shocked and really sad, but we have such amazing support. The community, the charitable organisations, and Red Cross has been truly amazing.”
Norelle and David received both the emergency grant and the rebuild grant for owner-occupiers from Red Cross.
The rebuilt grant helped reconstruct their track so construction can get underway on the block. Six months on, foundations of the couple’s new home, built to the same plans as the one they lost, are going in.
But a home is more than bricks and mortar. With not one piece of furniture surviving the fire, the money from their emergency grant is earmarked to replace the stove and furniture, but also lost treasures.
“We had this beautiful old sideboard, and our son found one that was 99% the same. It’s just a little bit taller with one extra door. It’s this beautiful stained glass, timber sideboard.
“Just to have the money for that, to know that there’s going to be something nice to put into the house, it’s like having that lovely happy ending.”
Grants are an important part of recovery, but so are smaller, less obvious supports being offered in bushfire affected communities.
“What I found outstanding and what is remarkable about the Red Cross is we had very, very tailored recovery support.”
In Nymboida that custom-made support came in the form of top up funding for the Festival of Small Halls and funds to hold mosaic classes.
These tailored, individual solutions that emerge from within each community over the months after a disaster is how Red Cross supports recovery.
Green is now starting to soften the black on Norelle and David’s property.
“It’s never going to look like it did again, not in my life time anyway. It has changed, but we will plant trees, we’ll put a garden in, it will look nice and in 12 months from now it’s not going to look the same and it’s still going to look like it’s had a fire through, but it will look better and we’ll be more comfortable then.
“Anyway, we’re survivors, we’ll get there.”
And the veggie patch will help.
The fig tree, mulberry and blueberry tree are reshooting and a tomato bush is growing in amongst the branches of the dead avocado where little Poet’s placenta is buried. Norelle has made relish and sauce and given away tomatoes from that one bush.
“It’s been lovely to give back.”
And then there’s those thriving pumpkins.
They’ve given away 40, have 15 in the shed and another 15 still to pick. That’s a lot of new life from burnt soil.