Tathra fire evacuation centre volunteer: 'Without leadership, people perish'

LESSONS LEARNT: Kylie Cullinan reflects on her first time in an emergency response team. Picture: Alana Beitz
LESSONS LEARNT: Kylie Cullinan reflects on her first time in an emergency response team. Picture: Alana Beitz

As confusion followed in the wake of the Tathra fire evacuees who arrived in their hundreds at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Sunday afternoon, Kylie Cullinan remained a source of calm.

Ms Cullinan made her way to the showground shortly after the evacuation began to see how she could help as a representative of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

But with so many different relief services covering the varied – and sometimes complex – needs of the evacuees in the pavilion, she quickly found herself at the centre of coordinating operations.

“Without leadership, people perish,” she said. 

“Leadership is an essential part of the social process, we saw so many fantastic services working on behalf of our community during this time, but they need to come together.”

Ms Cullinan said she had been in an “evacuation centre bubble” since Sunday. 

“There wasn’t a moment to pause, I don’t think I had a drink of water until about 11pm that night,” she said.  

“And on Monday morning it was just go, go, go. It wasn’t until Tuesday I managed to stop for a cup of coffee.”  

ADRA worked alongside NSW Department of Family and Community Services to house at least 50 people each night in emergency accommodation across the Bega Valley. 

Ms Cullinan said the personal toll of the past three days had not sunk in yet.

“To be honest, I didn’t really have time to think about it,” she said.

I didn’t really think about myself, I don’t think many of us did, we just did what we had to do.”

But emotions did come to the surface at times.

“I had people come up to me in tears, they needed to have a cry, and at those time I allowed myself to have a cry too,” she said.  

Ms Cullinan said waiting had been the hardest part for the crowd.

“When you have 200 people in a room together, you can feel that energy – grief, sadness, frustration, anger – it all comes in waves,” she said. 

“But there is also hope and solidarity, everyone at the evacuation centre has been on this journey together.”

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