Uarbry's Jill Goodman tells of rebuilding life after Sir Ivan bushfire on Hear Them Raw podcast

Uarbry's Jill Goodman shared her story on The Land's Hear Them Raw podcast after losing everything in the Sir Ivan bushfire. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher
Uarbry's Jill Goodman shared her story on The Land's Hear Them Raw podcast after losing everything in the Sir Ivan bushfire. Pictures: Lucy Kinbacher

Jill Goodman opens the door to her brand new brick home sitting atop a small patch of green grass that's clearly seen a sprinkler once or twice.

She greets me with a soft warm smile and ushers me towards a kitchen table that is big enough to host a sports team.

Even in her silence you can tell Jill has endured a war. She is in her 60s, but these scars are fresh.

"I wonder what people think when they look at me?" she says.

Graham and Jill Goodman.

Graham and Jill Goodman.

"Do they look at me and do I have a tag, fire victim? That's the lady that lost her house? Or do they look at the person?

"I'd like to shake off that tag but I guess it'll always be there in my pocket somewhere."

One Saturday in February 2017, Jill's husband Graham received a phone call for the Uarbry Fire Brigade to attend a blaze some 30 kilometres west.

They'd been fighting fires locally during the hot summer weather and presumed this was another routine event.

But little did they know, this blaze would rob them of everything they owned.

Battling a fire wall

Jill isn't in the brigade but she calls herself a volunteer's volunteer.

The moment Graham and his crew left in the fire truck she noted the time for future reporting.

Their home was soon filled with sounds of ringing phones and the muffle of two-way radios as Jill began her post in their unofficial command station.

She would direct local residents on evacuation routes or relay messages back to Graham and his crew.

"I just kept watching the smoke and seeing it get bigger and bigger and taking a few photos thinking I'll show those to Graham when he came home," she says.

The fire traveled 10 kilometres from midday until about 7pm and Graham didn't return home until the very early hours of Sunday morning.

They enjoyed breakfast together where he impressed upon Jill the importance of watching the smoke and the potential to evacuate if needed.

With more water in their truck and a fresh crew, he returned to the blaze.

Graham and Jill Goodman with their two dogs who managed to shelter in their kennels and survive the Sir Ivan bushfire.

Graham and Jill Goodman with their two dogs who managed to shelter in their kennels and survive the Sir Ivan bushfire.

But by mid morning the winds had changed and the fire was heading towards Jill. It was 11 o'clock when a recorded message advised her to evacuate, there were just two bits of scrub between her and the fire wall.

"I had my back to the front windows of the house and I turned around and the smoke was moving along that highway and it was about a kilometre from our front gate, and it was black and as a high as I could see," she says.

"I had never seen such a big wall of black smoke and I just knew I had to go then. Because I had been on the phone for two days there was no time to pack anything and like all good girls I had my handbag on the dining room table with my iPad and my chargers and my phone.

A sign inside the Goodman's new home.

A sign inside the Goodman's new home.

"I think I went into automatic mode and I walked into the bedroom, because I was driving away from the house, I put on my wedding rings and I picked up Graham's wallet because I thought whatever happens he is going to need identification at the end of the day. And the other thing I picked up was a small pocket knife that his mother had given him that he always had in his pocket, which he didn't have that day because he was in his yellow fire fighting gear."

She initially drove about 10 kilometres, presuming she could return home momentarily. The higher elevation just became a vantage point to watch the flames roll into the village of Uarbry.

Not long after she was back on the road bound for Cassils and then Muswellbrook to her daughter and family.

The Sir Ivan bushfire tore through 55,000 hectares of farmland. Photo Nick Moir.

The Sir Ivan bushfire tore through 55,000 hectares of farmland. Photo Nick Moir.

"I didn't hear again from (Graham) until 6.30 that evening and I don't know where they had been," she says.

"They were at a property not far from here, they were blacking an area out around the wool shed to save themselves as much as the shed. Their hoses were melting, they were exhausted. We heard again from him at midnight that night to let us know where he was and that he was safe and that's all that mattered."

Reduced to ash

By Monday morning Jill's worst fears had been confirmed.

The Sir Ivan bushfire had destroyed their two houses, a woolshed, sheep and cattle yards, 900 lambs, some cattle, machinery, and every fence.

With her daughter and son by her side, Jill returned to Uarbry on Tuesday.

Infrastructure damage on the Goodman's property. Picture: Supplied.

Infrastructure damage on the Goodman's property. Picture: Supplied.

She had left with the sounds of phones and two way radios ringing in her ears, now all that could be heard was dead silence. Not even birds were singing.

Graham had started digging pits for any dead and dying stock. The surviving 800 sheep went to two separate properties while some were fed at the recreation ground at Coolah and their cattle were cared for by another family.

Within two weeks they were back living on their own property in a rented caravan, their new home for the next 13 months.

Graham Goodman with one of their surviving dogs.

Graham Goodman with one of their surviving dogs.

"It was a bit odd but until the site was cleared I would walk around it every day when we came home, that was something I needed to do," she says.

"Some of the metal bits were like oh that's the piano frame or that's the metal frame from the lounge."

A symbol of endurance 

All the pair had were the clothes on their back.

Graham was left with his yellow fire brigade uniform and Jill took joy from the gift of a toothbrush.

She was devastated that she had forgotten to retrieve Graham's wedding ring as she vacated their house.

But an unbelievable discovery from the rubble soon became a symbol of hope and endurance.

"When I came home my son-in-law said, 'You show me where it was in the bedroom' and I directed him and he raked and he went down a fair way," she says.

Graham Goodman's wedding ring that was retrived from the fire.

Graham Goodman's wedding ring that was retrived from the fire.

"He said, 'I've found a bit of glass' and I said, 'That'll be the crystal ring stand it was on, it'll be a blob' and he picked it up and there is the ring on the ring stand melted down around it and that was about all we retrieved.

"Everything was pretty much reduced to ash but we found his wedding ring...and that was such a special thing, it is hard to put into words, but it meant a lot."

Both in their 60s and with things going well on the farm, the pair had planned to enjoy a quieter life before the fire.

They had purchased a new camping trailer and updated their vehicle to tow it around to their travel destinations.

The only other things retrieved from the ash were these cups and saucers.

The only other things retrieved from the ash were these cups and saucers.

"But of course we lost the camping trailer in the fire so we didn't even get it on the road," Jill says.

The biggest loss was the small priceless items that Jill is still trying to fill her new home with.

"The door post behind the dining room door that had everybody's heights on it, they're the things you miss, the things you can't replace," she says.

"I still refer to my home as being the other house that we lived in for 40 years, my husband built it, there was so much of us in that place."

The kindness of strangers

You can't tell from the outside but many invisible hands helped lay the foundation for the brick home that now stands on the Goodman's property.

The Dunedoo Country Women's Association offered clothing and food from the Dunedoo Showground, funds were raised to help with fencing, farmers and community groups including BlazeAid assisted in the rebuild, some still there eight months later.

The Goodmans are now preparing for their second shearing in a brand new woolshed.

They are still counting the cost of the fire, their flock numbers aren't fully tallied, but with every passing day they are making progress.

Jill Goodman.

Jill Goodman.

"There are people who have experienced worst things than we have experienced and lost more," Jill says.

"There were no lives lost in that fire, everybody got to go home even though there was no home to go home to. I just hope that perhaps, I can give people hope that things will be alright, it'll be okay, things will work out."

Listen to the full podcast episode by searching for Hear Them Raw in any podcast app.