Day by day, Leandra Ashwell and her teenage daughter Johanna are making their small donga feel more like home.
It’s the little touches that count, such as a simple decoration or ornament here or there, given they’re starting all over again with almost nothing.
“I think this is a really good start for the new year,” Johanna said.
“Every couple of days my boyfriend brings me something new from the shops [to decorate] … something that I hold close to me.”
The family’s home at Tara on Queensland’s Western Downs was one of 58 destroyed in a devastating October bushfire.
But just in time for Christmas, they moved into their state government-supplied donga and now call an old caravan park at Tara home for the time being.
The Tara blaze ripped through 26,000 hectares of thick bushland.
Leandra and Johanna escaped with just their cars, two dogs and the teenager’s school formal dress.
It was a lucky save, with the local high school holding the event a week later.
“[We lost] clothes, everything,” Leandra said.
“We had dirty clothes in the car and that’s all we carried with us because it was already in the car.”
In a case of cruel timing, the immediate weeks after the fire brought more upheaval for the Ashwell family.
Leandra and Johanna were living in a caravan, while their husband and father Leslie Christopher moved into the local aged care facility because of his declining health.
“It was really important to have a safe house to live in,” Leandra said of that time.
“Johanna was going to graduate with her formal. It was too much for me to think with my husband … we had no house and had to move. It was very, very hard.”
Leandra clung to hope her husband would be well enough to join them in the donga, but on December 7 he passed away.
“We expected to meet my husband here … but he did not make it.”
The mother and daughter are among five households rebuilding their lives at the Tara Accommodation Recovery Park.
Another 11 households are living in caravans at the Tara Showgrounds but are expected to move to the site next month.
A spokesperson for Queensland’s Department of Housing said the completed park would consist of 16 buildings able to accommodate 22 households, with nine caravan bays also available.
There are some familiar faces at the park for the Ashwells.
Johanna said some of their new neighbours were from school, which brought a much-needed community connection during difficult times.
“It’s been pretty chaotic since mid-October,” Johanna said.
“It’s really good to stay in town … everyone knows our situation so we can get all the help that we need.”
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