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Nothing left to salvage

by Rachelle Heath, 28th May 2005

Australian woman, Seargent Rachelle Heath, was stationed in Cyprus when she got the news her Canberra house had been burnt to the ground in a bush fire. Here’s a tale of how your house sitter will go the extra mile to save your treasures. (Nelson Mandela would enjoy reading this.)

February 2003

Rachelle comes from Canberra and has been with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) since 1990. In 1998, she married Darren Rath, also a member of the AFP. On 11 December, Darren (who has taken long service leave) joined Rachelle in Cyprus with their two children, Callam (4) and Ella (2), and the family set up home not far from Rachelle’s station in the village of Kakopetria.

At midday on 18 January, Rachelle was told about the bush fires which were raging in New South Wales, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory. Three hours later, she discovered that her house in Canberra had been completely destroyed by fire. The family had only been in the house for 18 months before leaving for Cyprus and had been very busy ‘making the house into their home’. Rachelle’s father is a builder and had helped a lot.

The AFP immediately arranged for Michelle to fly back to Australia to see if there was anything at all to salvage. She also had to deal with the building/insurance assessors and organise the demolition of what remained. Since 530 homes had been completely destroyed and hundreds of others damaged, the Australian Government had given grants of $10,000 for uninsured and $5,000 for insured properties.

It was a very busy week and Rachelle’s mother flew up from Melbourne to help. Three AFP members had lost everything, so the AFP Association organised for stores to provide items at cost and helped them to find homes to rent. They also set up a fund for other AFP members who wished to donate money to their colleagues.

Back in Cyprus, Rachelle says: ‘We’re amazed and very gratified at all the support we’ve received from colleagues and friends, both in Cyprus and back in Australia. Although we were pretty miserable for the first week or so, we are now over our initial shock and are planning our new home. We have lost so much but on the other hand, we’re one of the lucky families. Being posted to Cyprus meant that we had brought some things of sentimental value with us. Our children are small and weren’t physically affected by being dragged from flames, so they won’t remember.

‘Things I shall miss? All our books, my piano, heirlooms, paintings, photographs – I could go on and on. They were irreplaceable items. But I am really sorry about losing my Christening dress which I had passed onto Ella.

‘We jokingly said to our house-sitters just before we left that if they ever had to leave in a hurry, to please take Darren’s Mozambique journals (when he was with the UN in Mozambique in 1994), and a signed autobiography by Nelson Mandela. Although the power had gone off as the roof was caving in, incredibly enough, the house-sitters managed to grab the right books and escape. Trees had fallen over from the force of the wind and they had to drive through people’s front yards and around fallen trees to escape from danger, but they managed. We were just glad they weren’t injured, since four people were killed in Canberra and hundreds injured.

‘The insurance will cover us to build the same single- storey house in the same location. And seeing as we shall start again from scratch, we intend to build a second floor.’

Here on the other side of the world, keeping the peace in Cyprus, Rachelle considers herself lucky.

Sgt. Rachelle Heath arrived in Cyprus on 11 November as part of the 73rd Australian Contingent of UNCIVPOL. Stationed in Linou (Sector 1),

Rachelle and her Irish colleague Garda Pat Gallagher are responsible for a number of tasks including track patrols, assisting Sector 1 with anti-hunting operations, coffee shop meetings (where Cypriots meet with UNFICYP personnel to obtain/update passes into the buffer zone for farming/working), and responding to Sector 1 requests for assistance when there are intrusions into the BZ.

copyright The Blue Beret 2003

About the author: Rachelle Heath

This article was written by a staff writer. Rachelle Heath is a seargent with the Australian Federal Police.