WOOLOOGA: Fire, rain and the fresh green shoots of hope
THE fresh green shoots of recovery yesterday symbolised the spirit of Woolooga - the disaster-hit Gympie region district that would not give up.
Even as flames roared through and around the area in late September, people - fire fighters, machinery owners and mates - risked their own safety to save their neighbours from ruin.
"That's why we live here - the people,” feed grower Ross McClymont said as he looked out over acres of new pasture, freshly watered by welcome rain.
New life has put smiles back on the faces of the people who live off land which was a charred ruin only a few weeks ago.
Soon that new pasture will replace the hay he lost. And insurance will replace the shed that melted when that hay caught fire.
Mr McClymont was across the valley saving a neighbour's place when the fire came back around towards his home.
He could see it and knew his wife was inside, but he could not get there.
House removal contractors working on his farm used their machinery to keep the flames away from the house.
Just over the creek, the Moss and Banks households were equally grateful, telling stories of a community that stuck together in a crisis.
"It showed the importance of these community halls,” Woolooga Hall president Kayleen Moss said.
"When we lost power for hours, people could come in to the hall and have a shower and cook.”
Volunteer fire brigade first officer Denis Banks was off fighting the fire when the flames turned and hit his place.
"We saw his place go up,” Mrs Moss said of one neighbour.
"His poor wife was trying to fight it with no power and no water pressure.”
Recovery will take longer for people whose pastures suffered hotter blazes, killing the roots.
That happened over much of Terry Rauchle's Brooyar Station.
"A lot of weeds,” Mr Rauchle said yesterday. "The rain was welcome though. It would have been even better a few weeks earlier.”
A lot of improved pasture will be slow to recover, according to Mr Banks. "There'll be a lot of seed planting and weed killing and that's all extra cost.”
The community response from outside was also "huge,” according to Mrs Moss, "in terms of what we've been given and how generous people have been”.
"My husband had been out of hospital for three days and he stood up at the cattle trough with his pump and fought the fire from there, so it didn't get into the yards, the shed or the house.
"The pasture grass will really need 12 months to fully recover.
"I was with Ray Matthews trying to wet down the roadside to stop the fire advancing and suddenly the flames were right over us.
"I had high heels on at the time too. I wasn't expecting to fight a fire.
"It just moved so fast,” she said.
"You'd be standing here looking at the fire over there and suddenly it would be right on top of you.
"My face was burned red. I haven't been that close to a fire ever,” she said.
"We had 97 fire appliances here on the Thursday, all based at the new fire station I had only completed two weeks before,” Mr Banks said.
Trees, weakened by fire, continue to fall down or drop branches, sometimes across roads and power lines.
From now, farmers who had reduced stock numbers in response to dry conditions will be able to restock with fresh new grass for their animals to eat.
But gratitude seemed to be the most common emotion among people still getting back on their feet.
"Two blokes were here to shift a house from my place and they helped out because I couldn't get back.
"Gee they did a bloody good job.
"People were hoping for a bit of a pre-Christmas holiday but we ended up working pretty hard to beat the fire,” he said.
"It was beautiful to have that rain after it.
"Rain was just what we needed. It was the best Christmas present we could ever have.”
Now the recovery is right before your eyes as you drive through the Woolooga countryside.
"You'd think it was a golf course,” Mr McClymont said.