Kate Stathers is busy. She has animals to feed and water, work to do on her fire-ravaged Budgong property. It's pretty much how she was when we first met a week after her home was destroyed on January 4.
Back then, the 57-year-old registered nurse was taking feed to her flock of geese which had survived the inferno. For someone who'd lost so much, she was remarkably cheerful, thrilled her beloved birds had saved themselves by taking shelter on the dam.
Her house was in ruins, her land blackened and dotted with carcasses of kangaroos and chickens. She pointed out the creek bed, once a lush, shady haven, now scorched and stripped bare. Apart from the occasional honk of geese and the crash of burnt trees, all was deadly silent. No insects. No birdsong. A desolate wasteland.
Eleven months later, the place is unrecognisable. The grass is green, trees have burst back into life, the air is plump with moisture, birds sing and insects buzz. But Kate is essentially the same - positive, purposeful and crackling with energy. A breast cancer survivor, she credits her family's ancestry for her sunny outlook on life.
"We're from the First Fleeters. They never gave up. And that inspired me to never give up on anything," she says, putting feed out for her rescue horses now back on the property.
She explains how far she's come since that dreadful January day when her little patch of paradise went up in flames. She had a shed built, which gave her a place to stay. She fashioned an outside shower with old pallets and a hot water system she bought from a four-wheel drive centre. She rebuilt roads on her tiny tractor and even learned to do basic plumbing.
All this and caring for her menagerie of chickens, geese, dogs and horses has kept her focused.
"The most important thing for recovery is to have a sense of moving forward."
"The most important thing for recovery is to have a sense of moving forward."Kate Stathers, Budgong resident
She says there were dark times but she navigated them by reaching out and helping others who were struggling. There was the neighbour up on the ridgeline above Budgong, who called her in obvious distress.
"'Kate,' he said, 'I've been forgotten. I've got my cows, there's no treeline left. I'm terrified the cows are going to go over the cliff.'
"So I got in touch with Blaze Aid and they went straight up there and helped him put in some fences. It did him a lot of good to realise he had not been forgotten."
Kate helped other people too, including Ken and Rae Stewart from Duffys Lane on the other side of Budgong who lost everything.
Ken, who almost died fighting the fire when a tree fell and threatened to block his escape route, turns 80 next March; Rae 85.
While Kate is about to see work begin on her rebuild, the Stewarts' prospects of returning to the property they called homes for decades are bleak.
"When you start looking at other people, this wasn't dark at all really," says Kate.
"There was so much support from my family and friends, people that I didn't even know would still turn up and help me. I think that got me through."
As we speak, Ken Stewart arrives in his battered old ute. Physically, he's in better shape than many 20 or 30 years younger.
"Not internally, mate," he says.
With wife Rae's health failing and a huge bureaucratic struggle ahead to be able to rebuild, he says the couple is coming to the realisation it's unlikely they'll be able to return.
"In good times it's taken us 30-45 minutes to get an ambulance. If we had a fire we'd be lucky to get a unit out there. We had one house fire years ago and I think it took about 40 minutes and by the time they'd got there I'd put it out anyway," he says.
The couple lost not only their home, sheds, accommodation and a new dwelling under construction, but all the infrastructure, including underground power conduits, that went with it.
They've been told they will have to replace power poles that connected them to the grid. And a bridge that provided access to the building site will also have to be replaced - at their expense.
The poles, he estimates, will cost $30,000, the bridge $50,000 and the power infrastructure $40,000.
"You just don't know what the total cost is going to be."
Ken still makes the trip from Orient Point, where he and Rae are renting, to Budgong several times a week. The home might be gone but there is still a mountain of work to be done.
"I go out there now to clean up and try to control the weeds but each time the job gets bigger, it doesn't diminish," he says.