Duff family rallies for rebuild

Upper Macleay family rallies for rebuild after Kempsey bushfires

The Duff family at Toorooka, west of Kempsey, are rebuilding from the ashes that remain of their property, "Toorooka". Photo: Carolyn Duff

The Duff family at Toorooka, west of Kempsey, are rebuilding from the ashes that remain of their property, "Toorooka". Photo: Carolyn Duff


It was on its knees a week ago but "Toorooka" west of Kempsey will rebuild from the ashes.


Sitting in the lounge room of the Duffs' family home sits a whiteboard.

On it is a checklist of priorities of how they are going to rebuild from the ashes that remain of their farm that has been in the family for four generations.

The first heading on the whiteboard is cattle welfare and containment, next on the list is water and infrastructure and rounding up the priorities is replacing the boundary fences that have been destroyed.

"We all sat down as a family in the loungeroom and made the decision to rebuild," David Duff of Toorooka west of Kempsey said.

"The kids (Jenna Dillon, Samantha Dyet and Campbell) said you can't let this thing stop you, so we have a plan and we are going to go through with it," Mr Duff said.

"It's the Aussie thing to do, you get knocked down and you stand back up again.

"My daughter Jenna summed it up by saying 'last Friday Toorooka got brought to her knees, and today we have stood up and brushed our knees off', it's pretty fitting."

It is this kind of resilience that typifies the attitude of farmers across the state that have been hit by bushfires, who are now wasting no time, and in some cases like the Duffs, have needed to start again.

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But November 8 will be forever etched in Mr Duff and his wife Carolyn's mind.

"The ferocity and fierceness is something I have never witnessed, it was like a thunderstorm, but it was raining fire," Mr Duff said.

Earlier that morning they had a notification to watch and act for the fire that was burning west of their 1100 hectare property at Toorooka.

They took normal precautions and prepared the tractors with spray units.

At 3pm the fire was 20km from their home and by 4.45pm everything around them was on fire with the husband and wife team putting out flames under the verandah of their home.

They saved the house and nearby sheds, but it destroyed the steel machinery sheds containing most of their equipment, including gear for soybean production.

"We are normally in the swing of planting 100ha of soybeans, but it looks like we won't have a crop this year. The whole place is black, we might have five acres here and fives acres there that aren't burned," he said.

Their three properties Toorooka, Glenwood and Bemurrah, where they run up to 1000 head of Brahman/Santa Gertrudis cattle, were all affected by fire. Sadly the fire claimed six of Mr Duff's working dogs.

"It brought me undone, I tried to get to them, but the radiant heat made it too hard," he said.

This week, the Local Lands Services had to euthanise 60 cattle, including cows and calves due to burns.

"They are genetics that have been bred by the family and previous family members, they are not something you can buy out of the saleyards," he said.

The family are now hand feeding the cattle for the first time despite a dry season and below average rainfall of 355mm instead of usual average totals of 1117mm.

"We might have to destock, but if we sell cattle now we won't have future income next year. We have a self-replacing cow herd with young females - an important link in the chain."

Yesterday Mr Duff, a little broken but not beaten, spoke about how they were going to rebuild.

They have marked the spot with the first job - a holding paddock around the stockyards.

"We are only one of many in the district that has been affected. People have lost their home, we have our home and each other and at one stage I didn't think we would have either, so that is humbling. We are still here," he said.


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