Their temporary digs are comfortable but the Rugendykes worry about how how the rest of the community is coping

Dave Rugendyke where his home once stood before the bushfire hit Cobargo. He hopes to have his new home built by Christmas. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Dave Rugendyke where his home once stood before the bushfire hit Cobargo. He hopes to have his new home built by Christmas. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

When Dave Rugendyke looks out on the cleared patch of bare dirt where his new home will be built just outside Cobargo, he's finally in his happy place.

It has taken the passage of almost six months, together with a lot of tears and anxiety, to get to this point. But he's a different man now to when the bushfires swept through on New Year's Eve and destroyed literally everything the family had.

In the days afterward, he went through what he now openly describes as a personal crisis and depression. From a former tough street copper, it's a surprise admission.

"I was a blubbering mess," he said.

"Immediately after it happened, my home was gone and there were still fires and smoke all around here, I headed up to the showgrounds because I heard the relief centre was being set up.

Dave Rugendyke on his cleared plot of land in Cobargo, where his home was destroyed by bushfires at the start of the year. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Dave Rugendyke on his cleared plot of land in Cobargo, where his home was destroyed by bushfires at the start of the year. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"All these people, friends and neighbours, were there. I felt like I just needed to do something to help. So many people were just in a state of shock.

"I tried to cook and help out but I couldn't even make a cup of coffee. I didn't know what was wrong with me.

"But I had people help me. Friends took me in and looked after me then my wife, Barb, came back from Narooma where she had taken the kids to find safety.

"It was a slow climb back but I'm good now. I've climbed out of that hole. And all thanks to the kindness of friends, my former police colleagues and complete strangers who just turned up out of the blue and wanted to help."

Now retired, the former Canberra independent MLA and long-serving ACT police officer has his house plans drawn up and he and Barbara can't wait for the rebuild to begin. They hope to be in their new house by Christmas.

A large, donated transportable home sits on their property and has a feeling of home, with their three foster children staying in it and in caravans around it.

Former ACT independent MLA Dave Rugendyke. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Former ACT independent MLA Dave Rugendyke. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"It's a bit like a gypsy encampment here," Barbara Rugendyke said.

"I don't know how but thankfully all the animals managed to survive except one cat. We're warm and comfortable now and the kids are the same.

"After all, home is where you make it."

As a sign of things slowly returning to normal, as the coronavirus restrictions eased Dave Rugendyke is back to calling the bingo at the Cobargo pub and he's built a sleigh from a donated electric golf cart which he'll drive down the main street, bells-a-jingling, for Cobargo's Christmas in July.

"The one thing that troubles me now is that there are still people all around this area which still need help," he said.

"We've got these tough farmers out there working day and night to get themselves up and going again. They're saying, 'nope, we're OK, we'll get by, we're fine'.

"But are they really? No-one with the proper expertise has gone out there, sat down and had a cup of tea with them and really found out.

"I've been there so I know how it feels. I'd like to see some genuine mental trauma assessment done because I think we're not seeing the half of it."

This story 'I was a blubbering mess': Ex-cop sees light six months after Cobargo fire first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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