Batemans Bay Post Office: From service provider to community hub

It takes mere hours for a fire to destroy a town and years for its community to recover. In Batemans Bay, the local Post Office and Red Cross were there to help those in need of shelter, emotional support and access to essential products and services.

It was a month to Christmas 2019 when a rogue bolt of lightning started the fires surrounding Batemans Bay in New South Wales. As the flames closed in on the coastal town, its Post Office manager Janette Hunt remembers fear rising within the tight-knit community. On New Year’s Eve, there was no more speculation - the fires had reached Batemans Bay.

“It was horrific,” Janette says bluntly. “So many properties were gone but the Post Office remained standing and when we reopened, we found ourselves offering more than just postal services. We had suddenly become a source of support and information in our community.”

Whenever disaster strikes, Australia Post and Red Cross are there to support and help communities get back on their feet.

The Post Office wasn’t the only place that people flocked to in the days after the fires. There were also the evacuation centres where Red Cross volunteers were providing emotional support, helping people register so their families knew they were safe and connecting them with other crucial services.

The fires burned for 74 days, cutting the power for three days and destroying homes and livelihoods.

The 24 hours before the fires - and its aftermath

As stories about the fires spread, the uneasiness within the community grew. As Janette remembers, “Some people said the fires weren’t that bad, others said it was worse. We had the radio running all day in the Post Office so our staff and customers could keep up with what was going on outside. Everyone was on edge.”

The Post Office closed early that New Year’s Eve. Unlike the rest of her team who lives in Batemans Bay, Janette had an hour’s drive home to Narooma and hoped hard that she would make it back in time. A few hours later, she heard that the fires had reached Batemans Bay – and it was bad.

The next day, she decided to drive back into town to check on the Post Office and her team. That drive, she says, was terrifying. “Trees were burning on both sides of the road and I kept passing dead livestock, burnt cars and smouldering remains of houses. The smoke was so thick I literally couldn’t see past the bonnet of my car. The memory still gives me goosebumps.”

Janette reached Batemans Bay to find the Post Office safe but the entire town without power. The communication towers had also burnt down so there was no phone service either. Her team and their families were safe, but all ended up in evacuation centres over the next few days.

The Post Office as a community hub

The Batemans Bay Post Office reopened three days later to an overwhelming response from the community. Janette says people were walking through the doors because they didn’t know where else to go or what to do with themselves. Some just wanted to see familiar faces. Others only had the clothes on their back.