Five years after Blue Mountains bushfires, Rotary marks the mental health effects

“There are still vacant blocks where friends’ and neighbours’ homes stood… the ‘limbo’ of bushfire remains.” 

These were the words of Macquarie MP Susan Templeman speaking at Central Blue Mountains Rotary’s special event last week to mark five years since devastating bushfires claimed 200 homes in the Blue Mountains. 

The night coincided with Australian Rotary Health’s annual mental health day and sought to “Lift the Lid” on the resulting mental health effects on the community.

Ms Templeman said the fire that destroyed her Winmalee home was “a sudden, brutal declutter” and destroyed treasured items, including her beloved violin. 

There were, and still are, financial issues for many who lost their homes. Notably, under-insurance has meant that “some who desperately wanted to rebuild … couldn’t afford to. This remains a big issue. Lessons from 2013 may not have all been learned,” Ms Templeman said.

“Mental health relies on being able to move forward. Some do it quickly, others are still dealing with it, trying to recover. They need our support. We have a sense of the community pulling together in very tough times and volunteering is helping in recovery and resilience.”

The audience held its breath as Margaret Bell, president of Springwood Rotary, struggled at times to read the blog she wrote after she narrowly escaped the inferno that claimed her home as well. Community support was a major factor in her efforts to recover.

Jenny Bigelow of Blue Arc explained the value of planning ahead to save pets and other animals, pointing to the emotional impact of losing them. 

Education psychologist, Rose Glassock, covered a range of mental health effects, with a focus on school students. Many were caught up in their family’s and friends’ trauma and struggled to cope.

Central Blue Mountains co-president, Steve Cookson, thanked the speakers for their courage in revisiting that day – October 17, 2013 – and praised the work of Australian Rotary Health, which has funded over $40 million in mental health research, including a major examination of the effects of bushfires.