Fire victim’s $1280 ‘slap in the face’
A bushfire victim who lost almost everything in this season's crisis has blasted a $1280 government payment that is supposed to help him, his partner and 12-month-old son get back on their feet.
The only things Al Bacon has left from his uninsured Wytaliba home, in northeast NSW, are a couple of baby photos and some clothes after a fire tore through on November 8.
The 34-year-old concreter said he was working that morning "like any other day". But when he knocked off for lunch, he saw a mate approaching on a motorbike.
He told Mr Bacon: "It's coming."
"I was like, 'What's coming?'" Mr Bacon told news.com.au. "He told me the wind had picked up to 70km/h and a fire was on the way."
Just 20 minutes later, Mr Bacon was defending his home as a fire raged around him.
Realising how dire the situation had become, he decided to try to escape. However, when he got to his motorbike the wind had changed, causing the flames to hit him.
With severe burns covering his body, he ploughed on to the RFS station. There was nobody there, so he took a quad bike and headed back in an attempt to save his 83-year-old neighbour George Nole, who didn't want to leave his home.
On his way there, he was hit by a car.
"Luckily, the person driving the car was with the RFS and I told him we need to go back and get George," he said.
"But within a five-minute window, all our houses were up in flames. He said to me, 'There's no saving George. We have to get out of here. We have to go'."
Mr Bacon's neighbour tragically died in the fire, while he received horrific burns on his arms, legs and face.
Since then, Mr Bacon hasn't been able to work because it physically hurts him to be out in the sunlight, and his young family has been forced to rent a home 50km away.
Having to spend weeks in a Sydney hospital, he said she was "rushed" on the phone when making inquiries about the State Government relief fund.
After waiting four weeks, the money came through. But Mr Bacon was shocked by the $1280 sum, considering how much he lost in the fire.
The majority of that went on the $760 bill for the ambulance after he was hit by the car. The rest was spent going towards the bond of his temporary accommodation in Glen Innes.
Now he has discovered he will receive an additional federal payment of $1400, but even then he said there would only be enough left to by a "few new clothes" after all of the family's expenses.
"We've had to buy a new bed in our rented place, so between the bond, the rent and what not we've chewed through that money in no time," he said.
He said the money was a "slap in the face" after everything he had been through - especially considering how generous Australians had been in donations.
"I'm disgusted to be honest," he said. "They put me through all that crap on the phone for a pittance.
"Even my brother who's in jail managed to donate $1000 to help people affected, and this is all the Government can manage to give us?
"They need to pull their finger out because they're giving massive donations to coal mines, but when it comes to our citizens in need, they'll give you nothing."
He said his community of Wytaliba needed all the help it could get.
Out of the town's 70 homes only 18 are left standing, and two months after the fire hit, the mood is at an all-time low.
Mr Bacon said it still looked as if the town had been "napalmed".
"Everyone is struggling to be honest, there's a lot of arguing going on," he said. "We've had no water down here for a long time, so you can't do any concreting or rebuilding.
"This used to be a nice, green place to live, but the fire has just killed everything. There are dead animals lying everywhere."
The NSW Office of Emergency Management (OEM) says the disaster relief grants are designed to provide a basic level of assistance.
To work out the amount paid to bushfire victims, the Government takes into account the applicant's weekly wage or Centrelink benefit, their minimum weekly rent or mortgage payment and if they have dependants.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian vowed to "provide assistance as quickly as possible" to those affected by the fires.
However, today her transport minister Andrew Constance, who's an MP for the fire-hit area of Bega in the state's southeast, has pleaded for cash donations and government payments to flow more quickly to devastated bushfire communities.
He told the Sydney Morning Herald this week homeless families could not start rebuilding their lives until they had much-needed cash in their pockets.
"There has been incredible generosity from people around Australia and so much has been given to charities and welfare agencies, but people on the ground need that cash now," he said.
"We have families who are on their knees, and welfare agencies and government departments need to move more quickly because so many people need food, clothing and accommodation."