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How the children of Cobargo are moving on from a year marked by bushfires and a pandemic

abc– When 11-year-old Lincoln Alderman started writing a song about his experience during last summer’s bushfires, one memory stood out.

“I can see a fire, it’s just over that hill,” the lyrics read.

“But if we stick together, we’ll be fine.”

“I remember evacuating because there was holes in the tents from the ashes,” Lincoln recalls.

“We went down to Bermagui, down at the boat ramp, and I remember my dad saying if we stick together, we’ll be OK.”

A year on from the fire, that message still resonates for Lincoln’s small community of Cobargo in regional New South Wales, which was left devastated on New Year’s Eve.

Some of the students in his class lost family members or their homes or much-loved animals, and every child has their own story about what they went through.

How they’ve come together and shared those stories has offered others a lesson in resilience and hope.

The students

Lincoln’s song features on an album, written and performed by the students at Cobargo Public School.

It’s one of a series of projects the Year 5/6 class has worked on this year to help them process what happened over the summer.

They have also written and illustrated a book that charts the beginning of the school holidays through to the destruction caused by the fires, as well as the aftermath.

Lucinda Livingston lost her house in the fire and her father Ian ended up in an induced coma with burns suffered while trying to defend it.

She worked with her friend Lila Herring, who also lost her home, on several pages, and points to one drawing where the fire is represented as a monster.

“When my dad saw that page he could really relate to that because at the time he said it was sort of like a really dark, hot wind, that sort of like just blew over,” Lucinda said.

“And it was more like a monster than the fire you’d usually think about … but like it was this hot, dark wind that lit everything on fire.”

Lucinda said she still feels sad thinking about the fire and the way her life changed, but is looking forward to what is ahead.

Lincoln has a similar feeling when he speaks about his song.

“It made me feel a bit upset, and at the same time it made me feel like I could get it all out and it was alright,” he said.

The teacher

Campbell Kerr’s Year 5/6 class faced a series of disruptions this year, from bushfire flare-ups at the beginning of term one to a temporary shift to online learning because of COVID-19.

He sought advice from the school counsellor before starting work on the book, recognising it could be painful for the students and their families.

“I always knew it was going to be a raw story full of heart and soul and I think the first time I actually sat down and read the story from front to back I just had to take a moment and just sit there and sort of take it all in,” he said.

He says it has been heartening to see the students helping each other through a difficult period.

“Looking at each and every page it’s not about looking at a two-dimensional page for me, because I saw what went into that page,” he said.

The families

Lucinda’s parents Ian and Helen have sought a fresh start for their family in the nearby coastal community of Bermagui, after losing their house in Cobargo.

Ian has mostly recovered from his burns but is mindful of the impact the fires had on his children, especially Lucinda who was more aware of what was going on than her little brother, Sid.

“That was her whole life, she watched me build the house up from around her,” he said.

“And I think that really jolted her confidence in what was real about life and what wasn’t.

“Her whole comfort zone was removed and she got to see her dad in hospital covered in bandages, without really knowing what was under the bandages.”

Ian feels fortunate to have been insured and for all of the support his family has received over the past year.

And he says he draws inspiration from the resilience of his children.

“I’ve got nothing but praise for my kids.

“They’re just amazing, both of them.”

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