By Vanessa Milton
Hundreds of Tathra residents were forced to flee at short notice as bushfire engulfed their tiny NSW beachside town.
As they waited to learn the fate of their homes, the Bega showground pavilion became their sanctuary.
While firefighters battled the blaze, volunteers descended upon the evacuation centre at the showground, setting up tents and gathering donations of blankets, towels, clothes and toiletries.
Carrie Helpin (second from left) and volunteers in the Bega evacuation centre kitchen. (ABC News: Vanessa Milton)
Then the food started to arrive. Locals dropped by with home-cooked meals and cakes, and Bega supermarkets sent endless crates of fresh supplies.
“We’ve shouted out to the community to cook for us and we’ve been inundated,” Carrie Helpin, a helper at the evacuation centre, said.
“It has been amazing.
A regular supply of home made meals and fresh food from local supermarkets has been arriving at the evacuation centre. (ABC News: Vanessa Milton)
“I’ve actually lost a house in a house fire, so I know that feeling when you realise that you’ll never go home again, never have your own things again. That’s a sadness that’s unbearable.”
Ian Ritchie set up his mobile coffee van outside the pavilion, offering free coffees to evacuees and volunteers.
“My son, James Hambleton, is a volunteer with Merimbula RFS,” he said.
“He’s been fighting the fires since Sunday.
“We came down on Monday morning, and we’ll be here as long as it takes.”
Jordie Young and Ian Ritchie are offering free coffee to evacuees and volunteers. (ABC News: Vanessa Milton)
Small gestures provide comfort
Mayumi Murphy, an educator at Tathra preschool, brought in origami for the children at the evacuation centre.
“It’s just the little things. We can’t do much, but we just wanted to be here to support our families,” Tathra preschool director Jane Courtney said.
“The families know us, they feel that their children have somewhere safe to be, doing something joyful.”
Tathra preschool educator Mayumi Murphy teaching origami to children at the evacuation centre. (ABC News: Vanessa Milton)
The offers of help have continued to roll in — from spare rooms and manual labour, to local vets, doctors and optometrists assisting with urgent needs.
Other local business are stepping forward to offer their own forms of solace.
“We see the cafe next door feeding people, we see all the wonderful emergency support service workers in the street,” bookshop owner Myoung Yi, who has invited children who lost everything in the fire to choose a book, said.
“We trade in paper and ink and stories.
“It’s such an emotional time and books can help you to take a moment of respite and enter another world.
“It’s a small thing we can do, but at least we can get their library started again.”
Pampering helps to deal with grief
Bega salon owners Gail Sargent and Megan Filmer are offering a free shampoo, scalp massage and blow dry for anyone affected by the fire.
“We want to help people to feel pampered, and have that physical touch, which can be a healing, soothing thing when you are experiencing grief and pain,” Ms Sargent said.
“I think it’s going to be a big struggle for the whole of the community for a very long time.
“I see unity, total unity, which is wonderful.”
Bookshop owner Myoung Yi has offered children who have lost everything to come in and choose a book. (ABC News: Vanessa Milton)