Normal feelings in an abnormal moment in time

There’s no such thing as a typical reaction and no way of knowing how long it will take for Mountains bushfire victims to recover, but one thing is for sure, those who do not talk to someone about it, could be headed for “catastrophe”.

That’s the message from Major Darrell Slater who is in charge of the relief and support centre for the Salvation Army in the Blue Mountains, working out of Springwood’s Baptist Church.

“The problem will be if 

people don’t seek help, down the track there’s going to be a really small incident that will have a catastrophic effect on them,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to come and have a chat just to make sure you are okay.”

Major Slater, who is normally Sydney-based, has been on the fireground since Monday October 21 — three days after the disaster. He estimates the Salvos will be working with fire victims for years to come and his role is to manage long-term support plans. 

“We will resource the Army to be available well into the future, maybe three or four years if needs be ... and [we will] adjust our numbers to cope.”

He is also on the Blue Mountains Bushfire Recovery’s wellbeing sub-committee working with Phil Koperberg.

Major Slater said many people were indirectly affected by the fires, coping with “survivor guilt” as they regularly passed streets where just rubble remains. He was keen to see the clean-up take off to help victims feel more “normal”.

“If a critical incident happens we crave to reclaim what we had. The [clean-up] process started earlier in the Tasmanian fires but there’s also a need to match up safety and other factors,” he said. 

Each person’s experience was different during the “grief process”, he said.

“Some people will have a quick traverse through the insurance maze ...  there will be others struggling to get that operational.” 

He suggested in the lead-up to Christmas to make sure “they’ve still got time for themselves”. 

“Christmas will heighten the run to get things done ... they want to get their lives back on track [but] try and keep Christmas as normal as possible. Lunch may be at another family member’s home, but still have that family gathering and be together, it’s one of our best support networks.”

The Salvos have moved their shop from the church hall to Francis Road in Faulconbridge and have eight staff rostered on for the recovery effort from Tuesday to Saturday. Contact 1300 551 030.

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