Deepwater fire gutted George Spiteri’s honey farm but locals help him get back on his feet
The Deepwater community mucked in on Thursday to help out the Spiteri family. (ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)
Residents in the bushfire-ravaged central Queensland community of Deepwater have joined forces to help a local business owner left homeless and without an income when his honey production farm was destroyed.
- George Spiteri and his family lost their home and 20 tonnes of honey to bushfire
- Mr Spiteri’s ex-wife and the mother of his sons was killed days later in an unrelated incident
- Deepwater locals banded together to help the Spiteris clean up and start again
The fires burnt through 45,000 hectares late last year, destroying homes, farms and sheds and causing more than $2 million in damage to George Spiteri’s Deepwater Honey business.
The bushfire also destroyed his family home of 30 years, days before his ex-wife, the mother of his two young sons, died in a separate incident.
Mr Spiteri, a first-generation apiarist, had been building up his business for 12 years, with his second wife and four other children.
But he said the fires made it too dangerous to stay, forcing them to flee seven weeks ago.
“We were just starting to get fairly successful with our honey production and things were just starting to look really good,” he said.
“It was about 10 days or more before I was able to have a good look at what actually happened here.
“Total destruction, there was virtually nothing left … I’ve never seen anything like it before really.
“I still am a bit taken aback by what just has happened.”
George Spiteri says the bushfires destroyed all but 350 of his bee hives. (ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)
Honey farm could take years to recover
Mr Spiteri said he had been storing 20 tonnes of honey.
“It was worth a lot of money, that was pretty much our work for six months and I lost every bit of it,” he said.
“It seemed like a pretty good season for me last spring — now I’m down to about 350 hives.
“I don’t think there’ll be much locally this year, might be 2020 before things are starting to fire around here again, a lot of the trees actually look like they’ve died.
“The main thing is the bees have something to forage on. It might be a year or two before I can start bringing them back.”
Mr Spiteri said he hoped to return home soon, thanks to the help provided by the local community.
The damage bill at Mr Spiteri’s property has passed the $2 million mark. (ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)
Two tragedies in the same week
Mr Spiteri said just after his home was destroyed in the fire, his ex-wife drowned at Agnes Water.
“Something happened to her on the beach at Agnes Water and she ended up passing away,” he said.
“I’ve got full responsibility of two young children now as well, but they’re a couple of good boys and I’m sure we’ll be able to get through it together.”
Community bands together
Disaster relief organisation Team Rubicon and locals joined forces to assist with a clean-up at the Spiteris’ property and hopefully help the family to start earning money again.
Deepwater couple David and Saskia Fawkes were two of the 47 volunteers to swarm to the Mr Spiteri’s property for the recovery effort.
Mr Fawkes said it was fantastic to so many people eager to lend a hand.
“Every time I drive past I think where do you start from so hopefully it’s a starting point to move on,” he said.
David and Saskia Fawkes said they were happy to lend their neighbour a hand. (ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)
Ms Fawkes said it was further evidence of the power of community spirit.
“It’s more than a community — you become a family, you rely on each other to look after each other,” she said.
Rosedale horse breeder Mick Hine said volunteering was one way to give back to a valued community member.
“George has built many dams for people throughout the community, especially mine, and you hear the devastation and see the destruction you just do what you have to do … help George get back on his feet so he doesn’t think he has to do it alone,” he said.
About 20 tonnes of honey has been lost after bushfires at George Spiteri’s honey business. (ABC News: Sarah Jane Bell)
Mr Spiteri said seeing all of the volunteers eager to help offered him some strong encouragement.
“I’m very grateful that so many people are here with the clean up,” he said.
“There’s only a bit that they can do, but it’s a lot really because it’s a start for me and it’ll get the momentum going.
“The day after the fire the bees started to recover, so I’ve got to hurry up otherwise I’ll get left behind.”