The blackened landscape at Batlow bears witness to the terrible battles fought by firefighters and residents to save as many homes as possible.
The scorched earth within metres of homes speak volumes of the desperate stands taken, while elsewhere buildings lie in ruins, unable to be saved.
As residents return to find what remains of their community, there is a reluctance to talk about how they feel with outsiders. Their words become choked with emotion, and sentences remain unfinished. However, one man from Brisbane is having success in helping people unload their emotional burden.
Army Chaplain Marcaus Muller has returned to the town where he was born and raised to provide much-needed pastoral support to residents coming to terms with the aftermath of the fires.
He has been dispatched to the Tumut region as part of Defence’s support to the national bushfire crisis, and his easy-going nature is allowing him to bond with people who want to talk but are finding it difficult to speak.
“They are seeing the reality of what they have lost, or they have the relief of seeing their home has survived, but there is still this sense of shock that this has happened to their town,” he said.
The arrival of an Army chaplain has been well received by the people of Batlow.
“They know a padre is someone they can talk to, and that we care for them,” he said. “Some were surprised though to see that padres are in the military.”
Chaplain Muller said many conversations developed from starting with a simple “G’day, how are you going?”
“They realise that someone cares about them,” he said.
“Some of them just say ‘we’re OK, thanks very much’. Then I go a bit further and ask whether they stayed or left, or whether their homes were saved. Their sense of loss, or near loss, often means they can then start to go deep into their emotions.
“Some people have specifically sought me out to sit down and chat, because they are finding it difficult to cope. Others tell me they are doing all right, but they have a mate who might need somebody.
“There’s not much pushback against the fact that someone would care for them, or that they should share. It’s just a matter of waiting for the right time for them to share.”