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One year on, Salvos help rebuild lives impacted by Black Summer bushfires

11 February 2021

One year on, Salvos help rebuild lives impacted by Black Summer bushfires

Governor-General of Australia, General David Hurley (left) and his wife, Mrs Linda Hurley (right) spoke to East Gippsland bushfire survivor, Tanyia Becker (centre) about the support she has received from The Salvation Army.

Tanyia Becker and her husband Freddy loved their off-grid lifestyle in Genoa in East Gippsland, Victoria but their idyllic existence together was shattered when Freddy died during the Black Summer bushfires in early January 2020.

The two had lived on their three-acre property for 24 years, which Tanyia described as “beautiful, peaceful, nice and quiet.” When the fires started in the area just before Christmas, Tanyia monitored the radio warnings and eventually took her elderly sister and pets and evacuated to Eden. Freddy and his brother followed soon after but then returned to Genoa to defend the property. 

Tanyia spoke to Freddy on the phone a day later, “I could tell he was changing in his mind and body. I was very concerned about him. He sounded sluggish, speaking quietly. He said, ‘I’ve gotta go’. I could hear voices. That was my last conversation with him.”

When she later received a call from her brother-in-law informing her of Freddy’s death, Tanyia had a major panic attack and was rushed to hospital. Days later first responders took her back to her house to survey the damage.

“[I saw] Freddy’s clothes and work gear were in a box on the back veranda,” says Tanyia. “I was surprised that the house was still standing. I opened the door, walked in and was breathless.” 

Rebuilding beyond bricks and mortar

Salvos bushfire outreach worker, Lea Davis, has been working closely with Tanyia ever since they met at a bushfire recovery hub in Mallacoota. Lea said Tanyia’s situation is different to her regular caseload; “Other people grieve for the loss of their home or a business. Tanyia is grieving the loss of her soulmate.”

Lea connected Tanyia to a grant that assisted in funding Freddy’s funeral costs and she is currently working with Tanyia on a second grant to fund outstanding bills and equipment to manage her three-acre property.

While these grants will make a huge difference in helping Tanyia get back to her simple but cherished off-the-grid lifestyle, Tanyia is also in need of assistance navigating the legal system; a situation she never thought she would have to face.

Today, Lea is helping Tanyia make sense of legal proceedings, as well as connecting Tanyia to rural counselling services.

Lea says The Salvation Army is supporting Tanyia at a time when she is emotionally drained and traumatised, having recently experienced the anniversary of her husband’s death. An anniversary that took place in a traffic jam on her return home from Eden during the border closure on New Year’s Day. While this may not seem ideal, being surrounded by strangers offering sandwiches, fruit and good company was what Tanyia says she needed that day. 

“Being stuck in this traffic jam happened for a reason,” she says. “It was better to be surrounded by good people in a traffic jam then stuck at home thinking about Freddy’s death.” 

Lea says she and Tanyia have discussed ways the Salvos can continue helping her moving forward into a ‘new normal’ without her husband. “She has handled her situation exceptionally well but when a person goes through something like this and is able to handle it well, they can crash at the end.”

As Tanyia continues to face challenges, Lea is there to help ensure that no matter what, Tanyia can move forward to live the life that her husband fought so hard for her to have.

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