The day after a devastating bushfire destroyed his family home, furniture maker Steve Jory walked into a surf shop.
“The owner really helped,” says Steve. “He explained to his wholesaler what had happened – not that I really wanted him to – and we got a really good deal on a surfboard and wetsuit. It meant I was able to start rebuilding my life the first day after the fire.
“My normal routine is to get up early, have a quick surf and head off to my workshop. I’m not a good surfer but I love it. I love the environment out there. It gives me time for personal reflection.
“I tried to get back into my routine as soon as possible. It made it easier to deal with everything.”
Steve had been building his home in Tathra, on the NSW south coast, for about 25 years. He was just putting the finishing touches to it when the 2018 bushfire roared through town.
He and his grown-up kids – daughter Juvette and son Jerome – packed a car and sheltered on a nearby beach. Steve’s wife, Jenni, was working at her boutique in nearby Merimbula.
They all ended up at a friend’s house, where they heard from one of their neighbours their home had been lost. Four days after the fire, they were allowed back into Tathra to see for themselves.
“The thing that affected me was the kids’ stuff,” says Steve. “We’ve got nothing to give our kids to give to their kids and pass on. It’s like starting again. Jerome is a keen surfboard shaper and lost about 30 boards. Our daughter was at uni and had lots of stuff from her childhood stored in the garage: cards, drawings and so on.
“Then my Dad died a week after the fire, which made things worse. Jenni was very upset about everything, but subconsciously, I thought, I have to be strong. If I let the wheels fall off it’s going to be a lot more difficult for everybody.”
In the weeks and months following the fire, Steve felt numb. But there was a lot to do, such as sorting out somewhere to live, ordering new passports and birth certificates, as well as going to work (both their businesses survived unscathed). The pair also quickly got their heads around building a new home.
“It was difficult because everything was so instant,” says Steve. “In an hour we lost everything. You get a lump sum of money and you just don’t know what the right way is to use it.
“Fortunately, we have an architect friend who helped us and came up with something we both really like. It was about a year to the day of the fire when I started building again.”
Fast-forward another year, and Steve and Jenni are just months from moving into stage one of their new home. It’s been built by Steve, working full-time on their old house site, with help from family and friends.
“It’s been hard work,” says Steve. “By the time I get home I’m exhausted. But I’ve loved it. Jenni and the kids come and help when they can, and we’ve got some great neighbours who have helped. It’s been a cathartic experience for Jenni. It’s helped her move forward.”
Find your own way
Steve describes himself as the type of person who likes to get on with things. He acknowledges everyone recovering from bushfire will have a different experience but, for him, getting straight back into work and surfing was crucial.
“Everyone’s different,” he says. “If it takes you 10 years to get over something like this, it takes you 10 years. But if I could give any advice it would be to try to move on with your life as soon as you can. Try to get back to work and talk to a counsellor if you need to.
“It doesn’t mean you’ll get over what you’ve been through straight away – there might be a lot of frustration and anger along the way – but for me, getting back into a routine really helped.”