Northcliffe fire recovery: Rudd's stayed to defend their home

Out of the fire-ing line and into the future.

A South West town came perilously close to destruction in February this year when one of the state’s worst bushfires threatened homes and lives in Northcliffe.

Four months on from the fire Digital Journalist Andrew Elstermann and photographer Ashley Pearce headed south to tell the story of the town’s lucky escape and find out what they learned from the experience.

WHEN everyone in Northcliffe was told they had to evacuate because of a life-threatening bushfire, a husband and wife had an important decision to make.

Do you follow the warnings and leave?

Or do you stay and protect the livelihood you have spent years building from the ground up?

For local avocado farmers Max and Debbie Rudd the choice was an easy one.

“The trees are our livelihood – we have spent five years getting them going and if they had burnt it would have crippled us,” Mrs Rudd said.

“We stayed because we were well prepared.”

WATCH: See how Northcliffe is recovering.

Mr Rudd said he felt confident he could defend their home from the fire.

“I’ve experienced bushfires since I was seven years old – you’ve just got to keep your cool,” he said.

However, it would have been a different story if their children were still young.

“Our children are adults now but if they were not, they would have been down at the evacuation centre with Deb quick smart,” he said.

Avocado farmer Max Rudd pictured in the fields he protected during February's Northcliffe bushfires. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

Avocado farmer Max Rudd pictured in the fields he protected during February's Northcliffe bushfires. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

The Rudd’s decision to stay was helped by regular contact with local fire fighters from the Department of Parks and Wildlife. 

Fire crews were sent to a number of farmhouses to protect them from the burning bushland.

“I had people asking me if I was frightened or scared but I wasn’t,” Mrs Rudd said.

“I have a farmer husband who is born and bred Northcliffe.

“If he was worried then I would have been worried, but Max was always pretty calm.”

While her husband was out protecting the property, Mrs Rudd’s thoughts drifted to those who chose to evacuate. 

Using the power of social media, she was able to connect with the people at the Pemberton evacuation centre and the relatives of Northcliffe residents who no longer live in the South West. 

“As we were still in Northcliffe we had a pretty good idea of what was happening and I was able to use Facebook to keep people who had left town informed,” she said.

Mrs Rudd said she was not obligated to provide updates but felt the need to put others at ease.

Debbie Rudd used Facebook to keep information about Northcliffe flowing to those who had evacuated the town. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

Debbie Rudd used Facebook to keep information about Northcliffe flowing to those who had evacuated the town. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

She also captured some stunning images of the fire as it raged around their Boorara Road property.

“The colours of the fire, particularly at night, were spectacular – it was a real force of nature,” she said.

Four months on, the Rudds have some work to do to get things on the farm going again.

“The fire has put us about a year behind,” Mr Rudd said.

“We had started to prepare the ground for the next lot of avocado trees but now the paddocks that got burnt will have to be ploughed and reseeded.”

Like so many of their neighbours, the pair lost a number of fences during the fire and were touched to receive help from BlazeAid – a volunteer-based organisation that visits towns after natural disasters to assist with the rebuilding of fences and damaged structures.

“The BlazeAid volunteers were such lovely people and so very helpful,” Mrs Rudd said.

“We can’t speak highly enough of their efforts in supporting the farmers and getting things back on track.”

When the group had finished their work, Mrs Rudd collected all their gloves and used them to create a sign at the front of her property to honour BlazeAid’s support of Northcliffe.

Avocado farmer Debbie Rudd said the BlazeAid volunteers were angels who helped to get Northcliffe back on its feet. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

Avocado farmer Debbie Rudd said the BlazeAid volunteers were angels who helped to get Northcliffe back on its feet. Photo: Ashley Pearce.

“It is so good to know that when times are tough or things go wrong, there are so many great people out there willing to make a difference,” she said.

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