Spirit remains as emotions checked

Fr Greg Barker has established an extraordinary bond with the mid-north coast region after his appointment as Administrator of the Catholic Parish of Forster Tuncurry in early 2015.

He had some experience of the region during his time as a full-time Air Force chaplain, which included a stint at Williamtown.

In his first five years in the parish his people have endured severe drought, incredibly destructive bushfires, and then COVID.   

Fr Greg was adamant the fires of 2019 would not destroy the heart of the people. He wrote this not long after the catastrophic experience.  

“Some fires burnt to the very edges of houses, taking out sheds and cars but leaving homes intact — a testament to the fighting spirit of the Rural Fire Service and the communities that were able to stand their ground and defend. I am confident the tenacity and resilience displayed across the region, as communities stood side by side to defend their homes, will see those affected rebuild and carry on.

“Talking with families during the crisis I was impressed with the calmness of everyone as they prepared. Good decisions were made as some chose to evacuate and others decided to fight.”

Fr Greg says the resilience is still there “but COVID following the drought has made people reluctant”.

“They are holding their emotions in,” he says. “Drought, bushfire and then COVID have really tested people's strength to hang in. But people are rallying around each other and checking on their neighbours.”

It is the way the parish operates. During the bushfires, incredible stories emerged of neighbours and strangers pulling together and of genuine community spirit in the face of adversity.

“At times like this we really witness the heart of the Australian people and the determination of our communities to do more than simply survive these disasters,” Fr Greg wrote after the event.

Now, he says, they are also wondering what will happen next.

“Many are looking forward to the COVID vaccination,” he says. “They believe the sense of security it offers will bring them back to a sort of normality and to what they had before.”

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