How Is the South Coast Healing, After the Fires and With Covid?

A little bit of empathetic momentum can go a long way toward helping people and places heal.

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By Damien Cave

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During the Black Summer bush fires, I drove through the small town of Mogo on the South Coast again and again as I traveled from blaze to blaze. Each time, I slowed to a crawl. The destroyed buildings at the northern end of the town’s main drag broke my heart: It was all just ash, debris and one lonely brick chimney.

This week, I returned for a family holiday nearby and was stunned. The chimney was gone, replaced by a new cottage. The streets were filled, the shops busy. Not even a bad Covid outbreak seemed to have kept people away.

The return to normal, of course, has been far from universal. Only a small portion of the homes on the South Coast of New South Wales that burned in the 2019-20 fires have been rebuilt. Many of the properties I visited or drove past back then have been cleared of both burned trees and people — caravans and emptiness still dot the landscape. They are the kinds of scars that locals recognize and visitors might miss after the fires that scorched 46 million acres.

Still, there was no denying the liveliness — the joy and the sense of a community — coming back.

There were so many moments during our visit when the mixing of locals and visitors in a place that had been devastated seemed to encourage kindness and courtesy. At a busy pub in Moruya, a couple finishing their meal made room for us at their table after a group of men in high-visibility work shirts warned us we’d wandered into the smoking section. At the grocery store, people stepped aside to let people pass or waited patiently for their turn. All were masked. None complained.

At the Mogo Wildlife Park, where the animals had been evacuated by brave employees defying an approaching inferno, an older gentleman at the entrance offered a bright welcome and reminded us to use the “dine and discover” vouchers supplied by the state to help tourism get back on its feet in the midst of the pandemic.

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