Susan Templeman has lost an election and lost her home in less than two months — but she has no doubt which setback is more devastating.
The Labor candidate for Macquarie in last month’s federal election was one of the first Winmalee residents to lose their homes when fire swept through Emma Parade on Thursday afternoon.
“I got back [to our destroyed home] on Thursday evening. It was like walking through a scene from Kosovo being bombed out. People were really feeling shell-shocked,” she said.
Ms Templeman was working in Sydney when she first heard news of the fires, quickly deciding to head back to her home of 23 years with her husband Ron Fuller. Their 19-year-old son Harry was home alone.
“We hit the road from the city by 2pm. By 2.24 we were saying to Harry ‘get out of the house now, just go,’” she said.
When she arrived at Winmalee Shopping Village a friend broke the news that the last time she saw her home it was in flames.
“A lot of us have lived in this street for a very long time and none of us had seen the speed of this,” Ms Templeman told the Gazette on Sunday.
Despite the swiftness of the devastation, Ms Templeman said the community spirit of the Blue Mountains was at its best during those tense moments. Their neighbour Paul Hollier helped another resident to safety while other residents also thought of others before themselves.
“People in the street were looking out for each other. The guy across the road doorknocked the street with a mate because no-one got evacuation warnings. My first text came through at 4.55pm — my house was gone by then. It just happened so fast,” she said.
While a few coffee mugs and pieces of pottery were the only items to survive the Thursday inferno, Harry was able to save photos and the family cat, Sass, before he fled.
“Sass is now very comfortable at my mum’s place,” said Ms Templeman.
The loss of other items was harder to take. Blue Mountains artist Leo Robba had given Ms Templeman a painting before the federal election “to hang in her office when she won”. She lost and hung the painting in her home. It’s now gone.
But the mother-of-two is determined to rebuild in Emma Parade, as are many of her neighbours, despite the shock of last week’s events still looming large.
“Who would have thought that in October, in spring, we would be facing this?” she said.