Loving dad died trying to save heirloom

 

He stayed behind at his farmhouse to move the tools from the shed into the farm house to protect them from the oncoming New Year's Eve bushfires.

John Smith, 73, had one day promised them to a son and he had never reneged on his word.

"He loved his tools, he told me not to worry that night and he'd be home the next day for New Year's Eve with me and Emerald," his grieving widow Josie, 43, said.

"I later dreamt he told me 'I'm so very sorry Josie'. The decision to stay behind cost him his life.

"Emerald keeps telling me to stop crying, it's contagious but I can't. I really miss him."

Josie Smith with daughter Emerald lost their husband and father John as a bushfire ripped through their Catalina home on New Year’s Eve. Picture: Gaye Gerard
Josie Smith with daughter Emerald lost their husband and father John as a bushfire ripped through their Catalina home on New Year’s Eve. Picture: Gaye Gerard

It took overstretched police and neighbours eight days to finally search for the TAFE class preparation assistant.

They found his charred remains in a gully beside his melted Subaru Forester SUV, on the grounds of the remote retreat.

"I called triple-0 every day so many times to ask if they could search for John, but they told 'it's you again', there's nothing we can do, they had no manpower and the roads were impenetrable," said Josie from the family home in Catalina.

It took overstretched emergency services eight days before they could go back to the property to check on Mr Smith’s welfare. Picture: Gaye Gerard
It took overstretched emergency services eight days before they could go back to the property to check on Mr Smith’s welfare. Picture: Gaye Gerard

"When the roads opened eight days later, friends and police officers went on the property and found him, he was badly burned and lying near his melted car. I think he was trying to come home to us.

"I don't know what's worse, not knowing all the time he was missing, or being told they found him.

"The hardest part is not seeing him at breakfast with his arms open greeting us at the breakfast table. It's so quiet now."

The father of four had called his wife at 9pm on the eve of New Year's Eve saying he would be home the next morning despite RFS warnings to evacuate.

"I begged him to come home, he said he wanted to move the tools from the shed, they were expensive and one day he would give them to his son Ralph," Mrs Smith said.

"He was such an honourable, decent man."

Care worker and artist Mrs Smith says she and the couple's ten year old daughter will never fully recover from the horror of the catastrophic bushfires that tore through the NSW south coast claiming 500 homes and four lives.

Mr Smith’s charred remains were found in a gully beside his melted Subaru Forester SUV, on the grounds of the remote retreat. Picture: Gaye Gerard
Mr Smith’s charred remains were found in a gully beside his melted Subaru Forester SUV, on the grounds of the remote retreat. Picture: Gaye Gerard

Insurers refused to protect their home on the remote nature coast and funeral arrangements have been thwarted with the coroner still holding on to the body for examination.

The sense of displacement returned on Sunday with more than 70 different fires active across the state, and emergency alert level fires erupting near the home in Badja Forest the Clyde Mountain fire, west of Batemans Bay.

Mrs Smith and Emerald, 10, were forced to flee their home and seek shelter at the evacuation centre in Hanging Rock on New Year's Eve before a blaze from Mogo arrived.

There they registered John missing with the Red Cross and returned this week to seek advice and support.

"A man from the Red Cross asked me questions about what happened and told me 'Sorry we can't help you, the house in Nerrigunda his not your primary residence' and moved me onto the Salvation Army table," she said.

"I accept he can't help but to brush me off so quickly, I'm still in pain over John, hurt.

"I've lost my husband and my home and still don't know where to turn."


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