Wytaliba rebuilds: village "forgotten" by government will never be the same

HOT WHEELS: Bushfire victim Phil Hine drives a $100,000 Tesla Model 3, but doesn't have anywhere to live. Picture: Andrew Messenger.
HOT WHEELS: Bushfire victim Phil Hine drives a $100,000 Tesla Model 3, but doesn't have anywhere to live. Picture: Andrew Messenger.

Wytaliba has been stained red.

The bushfire-stricken community which lost over 50 homes and the lives of two residents last year in a blaze that smashed much of its landscape is slowly regrowing coloured shocking scarlet.

As the wildlife grows back, rebuilding the village has been delayed, with government support so limited some Wytraliba residents say they feel forgotten. Others say their lives have been on hold for two months since the November blaze.

Everyone agrees: the community will never be the same.

But will the changes forced on Wytaliba by the bushfire hurt the progressive community, or could change actually make it stronger?

Some of the villagers have returned, many of them choosing to live homeless in their community rather than losing contact with it.

One of those is Phil Hine, who lives in a borrowed camper trailer, but drives a $100,000 Tesla model 3.

He paid the deposit on the high tech electric vehicle in September; it's his first new vehicle in years.

The accommodation is right next to the ruins of his home since 1987 - and his retirement plans have been smashed too.

Phil's plan for rebuilding is to install a small Uniplan tourist cabin on his site once it's cleaned up. Once that's been bought, his savings will be completely drained.

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Many Wytaliba residents have told the Examiner the community is still struggling and many residents still remain homeless two months on. Others have been forced to stay in nearby Glen Innes, or further afield with friends and family. If they don't come back soon, the village may not grow back at all.

Created by hippies and nudists looking for escape from mainstream society, Wytaliba was founded in 1979 with the purchase of a historic cattle station in 1979. For years, residents lived in tents and shacks while they built the community "down the hill". But now they have to start again from scratch.

"My outlook is a fair bit different (from when I arrived)," Phil Hein said.

"I'm 32 years older than when I first came here. I had some money in the bank which I had semi-retired on. But once I've rebuilt I have no money in the bank so I'll be back to working."

He's already received the Federal government's $1000 grant but in another bitter irony, he won't receive any more help until after he's rebuilt his home. He's saved too much.

The Mann river is running again after rain. Wytaliba is slowly growing back red after last year's deadly Kangawalla blaze, which killed two.

The Mann river is running again after rain. Wytaliba is slowly growing back red after last year's deadly Kangawalla blaze, which killed two.

The army arrived last Friday - two months on. That was the first substantial government aid the community has received, said RFS Captain Kym Jermey. He said it feels like the Federal government has forgotten about them.

Everyone's lives have been on hold in the meantime - and the Christmas break hasn't helped as even many well-intentioned local businesses have taken time off over the holidays.

"We've had this couple of weeks now of living in a void where we can't even get stuff even if you've got the money to buy it," he said.

Council has among other things repeatedly rebuilt the temporary ford into the village after rain, and committed to build a new bridge. State government has promised to rebuild the Wytaliba Primary School ready for the first class.

But the community is very critical of the Federal government, which has barely lifted a finger.

"We are starting to feel like we've been forgotten about.

"How long is some of this aid going to take to actually filter through?

"We're watching TV seeing all these millions of dollars of funds and all this everywhere and hardly any of it has got to anybody here.

"So that's our biggest question; where is all this money where is all this aid and all this stuff and how long is this going to take?"

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Their number one priority, though: getting their people back.

"Because basically a community is people, so without people you don't have one," said Kym Jermy.

"The longer it takes to get them back the more the chance we are of losing them."

What was once a hippie commune is now looking to mining magnate Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest for hope. But with his commitment to provide both immediate and long-term support, residents finally have hope.

Phil Hine is optimistic for the future.

"I think a lot of (villagers) have a feeling (the disaster will) help build the community in a different way.

"It will grow and change in a different way. It's not going to be the same, it certainly won't be the same. (The bushfire has) fostered some new thought and some new ideas.

"A larger percentage have lost than have not so there's a lot of new ideas going on, and I think this is the chance for regeneration.

"As the bush regenerates naturally our community will regenerate in its own way, in a different way."