They lost their home in the Black Summer bushfires, but long-term foster parents Barb and Dave Rugendyke were determined to continue caring for children even while they spent 11 months living in temporary accommodation.
Over the past 27 years, the Cobargo couple have fostered more than 400 children — they currently have a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old in their care, as well as adopted eight-year-old Sarah.
In addition, they provide ongoing respite care to toddler twins in temporary accommodation.
Ms Rugendyke said while caring for three children with no home was challenging during the past year, but she would not have had it any other way.
“It was always an option,” she said.
“It’s just something we really enjoy.
“Now that we’re in this house we’re quite happy to do it again.”
Property decimated by fire
As bushfires loomed on the edge of Cobargo on New Year’s Eve 2019, Mr Rugendyke, a retired volunteer firefighter, helped out at the local fire shed, while Barb stayed at home with the children — until conditions worsened.
Ms Rugendyke, 67, said her son Jay came to the house to evacuate the family in the early hours of the morning on New Year’s Day, while he stayed to defend their home, but the bushfire was out of control.
“He couldn’t do anything to save the house. It overwhelmed him,” Mr Rugendyke said.
Returning a few days later to find their property in ruins, Ms Rugendyke said it was a relief to find their horse and pet cat alive, although the sheep and cows were less fortunate.
“It was amazing, because you wouldn’t have expected to see them [alive] in that,” she said.
“There wasn’t an inch that wasn’t black.
New home brings joy to foster family
For the first few months after the fires, Ms Rugendyke said the family managed to live in four tents and a caravan before moving into a refurbished site shed donated by her nephew.
“It still wasn’t enough for six people, but then we got a three-bedroom donated cabin,” Ms Rugendyke said.
“Which is still more than some people have.”
The support of their large family, their commitment to fostering, insurance and the local community made it possible to get through the year, and rebuild before Christmas.
‘I completely lost my marbles’
Thanks to community support and the hard work of the local tradespeople who made it happen the Rugendyke family are now in their new five-bedroom home.
And while they feel blessed, the scars of the bushfires run deep.
Mr Rugendyke said the bushfires marked the start of a “downward spiral” of mental health issues and “extreme uncertainty”.
“I completely lost my marbles,” he said.
Ms Rugendyke said he would forget where he was and struggle with simple tasks.
“Once I realised that it’s OK to accept help, I got help from wherever I could,” Mr Rugendyke said.
He said the friendships he made from the process have helped his recovery.
“People have been fabulous,” he said.
“It’s just a wonderful community.”
‘We have to move forward’
One year on, Ms Rugendyke said the family was ready to move forward and put the trauma of the year behind them.
“Now the focus is on getting our lives back,” she said.
“Sarah is only eight and she lost everything she had.
“We have to move forward so she can see there is life after all of that.”
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au