A JEWISH couple lost their home and shop while a Jewish-owned educational tourist attraction was destroyed when bushfires devastated the southern NSW town of Mogo on New Year’s Eve.
David Wallace had just returned from overseas the previous day when he and wife Leah were told to leave their house immediately, evacuating to the coastal town of Tomakin where they stayed at the residence of a retired doctor who had opened his home to strangers.
“We had no internet, no telephone and we were completely and absolutely cut off,” David said.
“We really didn’t know what was happening except looking around and seeing the sky getting redder and redder and flames shooting up all over the place.”
On January 2 the couple returned to Mogo. “We looked at the devastation and it was terrible, it was just like a war zone,” he said.
“We had a shop on the ground level and a unit above. It was a really picturesque wooden building. We had lots of trees around and there was absolutely no chance of saving it at all.”
The couple have been staying with family in Canberra and intend to travel to Sydney this week where relatives have offered accommodation.
“We’re in a lot better position than a lot of people,” David said.
Praising the kindness he has seen in the wake of the bushfires, he added,
“You saw the best of people. So many people would come up and give you hugs and want to know what was happening. It’s a pity it’s got to be with a disaster that this sort of thing happens.”
Meanwhile, Gold Rush Colony owner Maureen Nathan has lashed out at current forest management policies after the property, which contained a themed educational attraction and accommodation, was also destroyed on New Year’s Eve.
“The protocols that have come into play in this country … lock up the state forests, make more national forests, don’t clear the forest floor, habitat’s more important than human houses … as it’s turned out, none of them have survived,” she said.
“The one thing that has caused the part of this country that I love most to go up in flames is fuel load. And I am disgusted and livid with those who chose to make those policies.”
Monitoring the fire’s progress as it approached, she said she was “already mentally prepared that it [the property] would not survive”.
“The ferocity and speed with which that fire hit Mogo was enormous,” she said.
The Bateman’s Bay resident had put the Gold Rush Colony on the market after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She purchased the property together with her mother, who resides at Montefiore Randwick, 20 years ago.
“Our modus operandi was primarily philanthropic – we had a very high record for rehabilitating people into the workforce, we’ve employed a lot of Indigenous people,” she said, lamenting that 35 people have now lost their jobs.
She said manager Georgina Jackson delivered the bad news, driving for over an hour via a dangerous route from her home in Moruya to Bateman’s Bay.
“She stood at my front door with tears streaming down her face and she said, ‘Maureen, I didn’t want you to hear on the radio, I didn’t want you to hear from anyone else but me.'”