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Looking towards the next chapter: Pauline Sulzberger’s recovery from the 2013 bushfires
WHEN you meet Pauline you are struck by her wide smile and positive energy.
This zest for life was sorely tested over the last year when her Copping home of over 30 years was destroyed by the Tasman Peninsula fires.
A CPSU Member who’s about to retire from the Department of Health, Pauline is waiting to see what the next chapter in life will bring. The CPSU has helped her with some industrial issues, which have fortunately since been resolved.
Last week we talked to Pauline about the year that’s been. Burnt pines frame the driveway to her property, home to remnants of her former home and reminders of the devastating fire that destroyed it.
Concrete markers still stand at the entrance to her house, but there’s nothing left of the structure.
An orange plastic crate on the ground is filled with the remains of her Wedgewood collection and a melted jewellery box that was home to precious possessions like the earrings her daughter gave her. Pauline can’t throw them away but she can’t bring them inside either.
Pauline recalls the terrifying few days back in January last year when the fire came through.
The night before the fire she knew it was going to be bad and was prepared for the worst.
Her son Paul, who lives in a care home, was staying with her and she arranged for him to be picked up early the next morning and put the call out to help move the horses from her property. Her horses and sports like carriage driving are one of Pauline’s passions.
“While my son was being picked I put my foal into the stable and it was going crazy. It was trying to squeeze out of a small gap in the stable and was bleeding everywhere. I was waiting for someone to pick up the horses with a trailer. The wind was roaring, cinders were falling – it was not looking good.
“We’d sent one lot of horses away. When we came back we had the foal in the stable and my horse Phantom tied to a tree. The police let us go back to my house. At that stage I was absolutely exhausted, the men managed to get the horses in and shoved me into the car
“When I left I heard the front door close behind me and I thought “don’t turn around, it probably won’t be here when you get back”, and it wasn’t.
“We drove down to Dunalley, the fire followed us down there. Things were just bursting into fire, like trees and for sale signs on houses – poof, they were gone. We went around to the fish market place, and I went into the water in my crutches. The stallion was in shock after being tied to the tree with everything roaring around at my house.
“The next thing a policewoman was telling us that we had to go, saying the fire was coming and coming fast. She pointed towards the hills and it was roaring down.
“We got moved all the way down the peninsula right down to Koonya. Then the fire moved to White Beach and Taranna and we were told we had to leave. The fire was coming from both sides. So we had our cars parked facing towards the beach, just in case.
“For three nights we just sat there. We couldn’t get any radio. Eventually we got out in a convoy but I didn’t know my place had been burnt out. I sent a text to my neighbour asking if she could feed my pigeons. She replied asking if anyone had been in touch with me. I typed again, ‘could you please feed my pigeons’. She wrote back I’d lost everything but it didn’t sink in, I wrote back that the pigeon food was in the tack room at the end of the stable – I just wasn’t hearing it. It turned out my pigeons were okay but my house wasn’t at all, it was gone.”
Despite losing almost everything, Pauline said the generosity she’s encountered since the fire has blown her away and kept her going. Community groups like Rotary and the Flinders Island Men’s shed and others have helped Pauline in so many ways during this difficult time.
Pauline has lived in a range of accommodation, often in freezing conditions and without basic services – a tiny run down camper or “humpy” hardly two by two metres square, then an old shed without electricity and sewerage, and a damp, cold shipping container. For nine months she had to drive down to Dunalley at 4am to shower before work each day.
Now, Pauline and her beloved pair of King Charles spaniels are living in her rebuilt stables, which offer a bathroom, kitchen and other much missed facilities.
“It’s an absolute luxury for me just to have a toilet and a shower!”
Her new house is in the process of being built, the frame is up, the roof is almost on and the plasterers are due within the week. Pauline’s already planning how she will decorate her son’s room for when he comes to stay.
“I’ve lost everything and you get to the stage were nothing is really important anymore, if you lose something now or it breaks, I think “oh well”.
Her strength of character is apparent, previously surviving a devastating car accident in her 20s that left her unable to talk for a time and in need of major surgery.
Pauline’s retiring after 14 years in the public sector. “I started at the Royal Hobart Hospital when I was young, and I finished at the Royal. Now, that story is finished and another story is about to start. I don’t know what’s going to happen but knowing me it will be exciting!”
Although she’s retiring Pauline is a strong believer in unions, a member since the day she started work. “I was born into a union family and I totally believe in union principles. Your union has just been the best insurance that you could ever have.
“Just to have your union there, I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is to be a Member. Your fees aren’t very expensive, and after tax deductions it’s about what you’d spend on a good night out.
“I couldn’t pick myself up after everything that happened last year with the house and work, and Celeste (CPSU’s Celeste Miller), negotiated on my behalf when I couldn’t do it myself.”
As well as helping Pauline industrially, Celeste and her colleague Katrina Bicket went over and above, arranging for local businesses to donate household items to help Pauline get back on her feet. It’s a kindness that’s not lost on Pauline.
“I just can’t thank people enough. When you feel like giving up, it was the people there helping, the volunteers that really lifted me back up again.”
The CPSU wishes Pauline all the best with her retirement and the next chapter of her life.
You often learn the value of membership when a crisis comes and you need help, it’s not based on how much fees cost but how the union is there support you when you need it.
The CPSU would like to thank the following businesses for their support and donations:
• Rosie Macks
• Coogans Moonah