You are here

A Fire Inside – A burning desire to help

16 December 2021

A Fire Inside – A burning desire to help

“His property was destroyed, all the koala enclosures, his own home, and he’d lost about eighty per cent of the koalas he’d been rehabilitating - how can you not do everything to Help” - Andrew Mclister - Claims Assessor

Q: Two years on since the worst fires in our history how would you describe what you experienced on the road?

It was like Hell; everything was wiped out. Nothing green remained. The scale of the damage was hard to comprehend. As I was talking to people, trees were still falling, and parts of cars were rivers of aluminium, I was on the road for about three weeks, helping as many people as humanly possible, as fast as possible. I assessed about sixty-five bush fire claims down the south coast, all of them total losses, properties burnt to the ground. James’ was by far the worst.

Q: Tell us about the double tragedy on James’s property and the impact?

James is the trustee of Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary which he ran at his property in Peak View, South of Canberra. His life work is to rescue and rehabilitate koalas. I arrived to find his property gone, his home gone and about 80 percent of the koalas. And if that wasn’t tragic enough a water bomber which came to help crashed near his property killing all three American pilots. He was a broken man. The pain in his eyes I will never forget. The guilt he felt that people died trying to help him was overwhelming.

Image 1 of 5
Image 2 of 5
Image 3 of 5
Image 4 of 5
Image 5 of 5
“Here’s a guy who just wants to help and now the very people trying to help him have been killed. It was just gut-wrenching for him. I just wanted to help him and do whatever I could to make some of the pain go away”

Q: In a situation like that, what type of help or comfort can you provide?

James’s was in shock. I had to be practical and make sure he was safe, but he refused to leave his property and my offer of emergency accommodation, because he wanted to stay and search for injured koalas. My role was to immediately put things in place with the NRMA Major events team, to purchase and deliver a caravan for him to live in and for a builder to hook up a little water tank so he could start rebuilding koala enclosures. The insurance claim was settled really fast, and he was so appreciative. Trying to help turn someone around from a complete disaster is the most rewarding feeling a person can have. It’s what we do and it’s what I love.  

Q: You’ve remained in contact with James and recently to the property - can you share the update?

James is someone I will never forget. He is one of a kind. I’ve never met anyone with that kind of passion. No sooner had he received his claim did he begin the rebuild. I returned to see him and found him still in the caravan. He spent almost all the insurance money rebuilding enclosures and they are incredible. He was determined to honour the three pilots and named rescued koalas after them. He told me he can sleep anywhere but the koalas needed proper enclosures to climb and get their fitness back.  He shared with me that since the fires, there has been a high fertility rate in females and many joeys. He continues to dedicate his life to helping these beautiful animals through research and rehabilitation but there is a long way to go. To have helped in some way, in some small part was an absolute privilege.

Just like Andrew and James, we all have ‘A Fire Inside’. Helping others is what Australians do best. And with natural disasters increasing in intensity and frequency, help is more important than ever. NRMA Insurance is proud to be the founding partner of the Australian Resilience Corp. an army of helpers to harness the collective power of communities. Everyone has a role to play. Find out yours.

See the film. Read the book. Join the Australian Resilience Corps.


A Fire Inside
Community Help