Tony Renn evacuated his 100-acre property at Goongerah on the Bonang Road a day before the bushfires swept through toward the end of December.
Mr Renn’s humble, but much loved home, didn’t stand a chance. It was wiped out.
The 66-year-old knew it was gone before he returned to the property.
“After I left I kept ringing my phone. I probably rang 20, 30, maybe 50 times. I knew it was gone when I called and eventually got an engaged signal,” Mr Renn said.
Mr Renn lost virtually everything in the fires. Prior to leaving his property he took a few essentials with him, but those possessions that paint a picture of one’s journey through life were destroyed.
Paintings, drawings, books - all gone.
“I had lots of little things that I collected over my life. An old brass microscope made in France was melted to nothing,” he said.
A brass lock that Mr Renn had salvaged from his grandfather’s house in Carlton had also melted.
Some old doors he had found under a hall in Brunswick that proudly framed his house are lost, too. The list goes on.
“I still wake up at night and think, oh no that’s burnt. I’ll never get them back because I can’t. I have to accept that,” Mr Renn said.
In a few months, before we know it, it will be December again. A year since the bushfires wreaked their devastation and destroyed hundreds of homes, barns and sheds in East Gippsland.
But for Mr Renn his situation will undoubtedly still be the same.
“I’m just waiting, that’s all I do now,” he told the Advertiser during a visit to his isolated property.
“Just waiting. That’s all I seem to do. Just wait.”
Mr Renn, who worked as a psychiatric nurse for many years, is living in a secondhand caravan on his property which was donated by Rotary.
Because he doesn’t have access to power, Mr Renn uses a generator, which he says costs him about $80 a week in fuel to run.
“You can’t run a generator all the time. I hate it,” he said.
He washes in a bath out in the open that he fills with water after boiling it in a drum.
It’s a simple existence fraught with frustrations.
Mr Renn is keen to rebuild his home. He has a friend ready to draw the plans for the design of the house, but he, like many others in East Gippsland, remains hamstrung by the slow wheels of bureaucracy.
Grocon cleared away what was left of his house a few weeks ago, but he is still waiting for a report regarding his Bushfire Attack Level (BAL) rating.
The all-important rating measures the severity of a building’s potential exposure to ember attack, radiant heat and direct flame contact in a bushfire prone area.
There are six levels that reflect standards for construction of buildings in such areas, including low, 12.5, 19, 29, 40 and FZ (flame zone).
Mr Renn said he was informed last week that the rating has been done and is now with the East Gippsland Shire Council.
“I think I’m going to crack a BAL 40, which is pretty hectic, but I’m prepared to build on a BAL 40,” he said.
In response to questions from the Advertiser about Mr Renn’s rating, a spokesperson for the shire said due to privacy laws they were unable to provide any private planning information.
“If I’ve got to knock trees down, it will be upsetting but I’ll do it,” Mr Renn said.
“I’ll run a dozer through all those trees this side of the road if I have to.
“Whatever I’ve got to do, I’ve got to do.
“I’ve got no qualms about it. I want to be back here and if it burns again, I’ll build again,” he said resolutely.
Mr Renn looks forward to the day he can move out of the caravan, which he finds stifling.
Over winter, Mr Renn discovered the caravan had started to leak.
His bushfire case manager is now arranging for a shelter to be built over the van.
“All I want to do is get on with it. I just want to get to the point where I can submit drawings to a building inspector,” Mr Renn said.
“It will be a small house, because you’re always under insured and when you’re a pensioner you can’t get a loan I’ve discovered, so you just build to what you can afford.”
For all his troubles, Mr Renn is the first to concede that “there are people a lot worse off than I am”.
He is thankful to BlazeAid who are restoring fences on his property so he can untether his two house cows.
And despite its isolation, Mr Renn says he enjoys living in Goongerah.
“I love looking out at the bush, even though most of it was burnt,” he said.