Judith and Paul are a couple in NSW who lost everything they own to the 2019 Bushfires. We had the honour to go out to their property to help them restore and rebuild parts of their property. Judith and Paul have led a 100% sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle on their line and have been an inspiration and lectures to many in the art of truly sustainable living. Judith shares their story with us during an interview on the day we were out working with her and Paul.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family and how you have been affected by the 2019 Bushfires?
My name is Judith. I’m an author of many books. My husband Paul and I’ve been together for 50 years, we have lived on this property for a long time and we have been sustainable. I’m here sharing my time today because Habitat is sharing their time with us today, with help working on our property, as I sit here, our property was totally destroyed by Bushfire.
We have been self-sufficient on this property and we’ve lived that life for 50 years and consequently, as one can imagine. Our whole lifestyle has been destroyed, not just a house, but all the sheds all the tools, all the animals died in the fire. It’s been a real tragedy. But we look at it with our glass half full because we’ve been supported by charities such as Habitat.
We’re being supported by the Australian Government and the state government. We have had support all the way around us. Unfortunately, refugees around the world, don’t share their crisis in such a good way. Their crisis is a real crisis. Our crisis is a rebuilding. With the support of everybody around us.
So therefore, we consider that we are very well off all our life, we lived differently to other people, our bill for food, and our resources, every year totalled $800. We did everything ourselves we grew our food we read our own, we bread our own meat. We fixed our own machinery we cut each other’s hair. We fixed our shoes we mended our cars we mended machinery, we built everything out of recycled materials, and that lifestyle has now gone.
The animals that we lost was our milking cow, our sheep, our breeding pigs, the chickens, all of the ducks, a cat, our rabbits and our beehives. We rely on the beehives to pollinate all the fruit trees, and we’ve lost 63% of what once was. 6,423 edible plants from all corners of the world, which we imported through quarantine, between the years of 1970 through to 1976.
We’re retired very well retired, and at the age, we are now, we’ve now got to sit and take stock to see where our life goes from this point on. The hardest point in our life has been what animals do we bring back to the property, how much work can we do in the next 10 years as we face our 80s. What kind of lifestyle will we have? It’s a shattering experience in the sense that it’s targeting your future, at our age.”
Can you tell about the fires and your experience on the day and after?
“The fire came to this property on Thursday the 19th of December. I was out in the vegetable garden, picking some herbs and vegetables ready to make soup for lunch. It was about quarter past 11 and I noticed that smoke that had been in the air all morning, had turned pink.
I raced into the house, couldn’t find my husband rice down to the sheds found him, and said to him, this fire behind the smoke. He raced up to the top of the driveway and saw the flames in the street. We had approximately somewhere about 15 minutes to get out. No time to collect pets no time to see to animals, nothing. Paul grabbed the computers and I grabbed all of our photo albums and a few, few documents, and so on.
We got in the car and we and we drove off. We didn’t know what to do or where to go. We then contacted all of the rescue centres and they were all full and they were all closed. Consequently, we then had to figure out for ourselves where to go. We rang the motels we rang the BMB’s, we rang everywhere; everything was booked out. We ended up having to drive to Narellan apne Campbelltown and stay in a motel there for three nights.
When we finally came back into the area, and the insurance company were desperately trying to find some long-term accommodation, but because it was Christmas time, everything was booked out. Because we live in a small village, we don’t have much accommodation available. So, we went to Bowral and the accommodation journey for us, went to hell and back.
We were supposed to be there for three weeks on Christmas Eve at four o’clock on Christmas Eve, they knocked on our door and told us that we had to leave because it was booked out and we had to be evacuated by six o’clock that day. So, we rang the insurance company. They were livid because they had no idea about it. They found us accommodation in a B&B, and so we went to the B&B. Once again, we had to get out and then we were there for four days in one accommodation had to get out another accommodation five day had to get out our journey was five accommodations in six over six week period.
The Red Cross gave us a donation of $5,000 and I can’t praise them enough for that because it allowed us to buy a colorbond shed. I wanted a six by nine shed and I wanted in a fortnight. It was a struggle to find availability for the colorbond shed, three stores turned me down and the fourth one said, let’s sit down and talk about it. So, the colorbond shed that we’re now living in on our property was due to the Red Cross and due to the wonderful caring attitude of Best Sheds in Campbelltown.
You mentioned you had to leave your pets behind, how did Jeddah (in the picture above) survive?
When we escaped the fire, we couldn’t see to any of our pets because we had barely enough time to escape ourselves. And so, what happened is I just had to say to them, run for your life. Jeddah has been used around in neighbouring properties she’s a trained sheepdog, and she’s a good little worker so we’ve rented her out a few times for free. She ran to the first property; it was on fire she ran to the next one they caught fire she ran to the next one and they caught fire. Then she finally got one to the end of the street, and that wasn’t on fire, so she stayed there for two weeks. Then when everything calmed down here. Those people took her to our neighbours across the road. And they kept her for six weeks, till we came back to the property.
Can you tell us a bit more about the support you have received since back on your property?
We’re all home now, and we’ve been able to with a lot of help a lot of unique help from around the world. Now for people to understand why we would get help for around the world. Paul and I have since the 1980s, we have lectured around the world on self-sufficiency sustainable living and climate change, all of the students that we’ve had from different universities in different countries, got together and they did some crowdfunding. They bought two Tiny Homes completely outfitted in equipped, and they had them delivered to this property so that each of them could come back and help us rebuild our property.
The first to arrive were two French couples and Israeli couple and an Argentinian, and they knew how important it was for us to have our vegetables and our food. So, they got in stuck in and work day and night, day and night and they rebuilt half of the veggie patch. They also build a temporary chalk shed until we build the pen. The next slot have now arrived, an English couple American, Canadian German and Italian, and therefore the next phase, and the Germans arrive we’ve got six Germans, arriving after COVID, possibly in November, and they will come and they will help us rebuild our home butchery our cheese re and our root cellar. It’s humbling. It’s humbling because when you think that you just help people and then they all get together.
Having the volunteers here from Habitat, especially finding that most of them come from inner-city suburbs, has been a real shock to me and it’s been wonderful. They’re very warm and caring people, they are learning skills, some of them are learning skills on the job I’ve taught people how to use wheelbarrows today. I’ve taught them how to use shovels. I’ve taught them how to hammer star pickets and tie wire and a few other things, but it’s been great because he’s so eager to learn. Having a charity that can come on to a property that can help you do repairs, even if the people are not totally skilled, they willing to learn, and they’re willing to give and that’s worth everything.
We are very well insured. But the cost of all the building materials has skyrocketed plus all the new regulations for fire hazards, costing a lot more so, a lot of people out there in the community, their insurance is not going to rebuild the house they had, and the rumour is out there in the community that they’re having to build smaller houses and the house that they lost since they had a four-bedroom house and the ability in a three-bedroom house. Paul and I are retired, all the kids are grown up our house, really doesn’t matter to us. And the most important thing for us is our lifestyle. So we’re focused on all the food forest, all the vegetable patches and so on. But the house will look nothing like the house that we’ve lost. We lost the mud-brick house which we built ourselves. It was comprised constructed and furnished from 69 different homes from around New South Wales, it had 200-year-old stained glass windows in it. It had a very large stained-glass door that came from a doctor’s surgery, opposite old Sydney Hospital in Sydney and a bedroom window came from summer Hill post office, and it was installed in summer Hill post office in 1884.
Will you build sustainably?
We will build sustainable, simply because we have all these universities watching us from all around the world who come to study our lifestyle. Whilst we can’t do what we did before we cannot build the mud-brick house again, simply because we don’t have the strength, nor do we have the health. It would take us two years to make the mud bricks. Then we would have to construct the building, and that would give us three years and we just getting too old for that. So we now have to fit in with the the regulations the qualifications and so on with the local council and the state government. But we are bringing in the most environmental septic system. We are doing the most our builder said that he’s building our house because he wants to learn how to build sustainably.