The pharmacy at Tathra has survived this week’s devastating bushfire – but its owner doesn’t know when he’ll be allowed to reopen it
The Rural Fire Service has confirmed that 69 homes and businesses have been destroyed, as have 30 caravans or cabins in the NSW South Coast town of Tathra. Another 39 homes have been damaged.
Tathra has a population of 1622, most of whom have been evacuated to the nearby towns of Bega and Bermagui; however John Plevey, owner of Tathra’s Plevey’s Pharmacy, says he estimates that about 10-20% of residents have stayed behind.
Residents who have left are unable to return unescorted, and a roadblock has been set up on Andy Poole Drive. According to the local newspaper, one man has already been charged for disobeying the roadblock.
“I actually stayed on, on Sunday, till about 7.30[pm], putting out spot fires to stop it getting to my place,” John Plevey says.
“There was a change of wind that took it away from my place – I went looking for my dog but he’d gone missing, I didn’t find him on the night but he’s been found now.”
Like most of the town’s residents, Mr Plevey left town, and attempted to return on Tuesday morning.
“I tried to get in this morning to open the pharmacy for people who needed urgent medication, and they said, ‘sorry, you can’t enter’,” Mr Plevey told the AJP. “They said no-one’s allowed back there. I had to come back to Bega but I’d like to go open the Tathra pharmacy for those who did stay behind. We won’t get in today. Maybe tomorrow.
“Some stayed on to protect their houses, and I suppose those people could get out, but they won’t be allowed back in.
“I think they’re worried about the unstable structures, about asbestos, and they’re probably worried about looting, that sort of thing, as well.”
A staff member had been allowed to return to the pharmacy on Monday, with a police escort, to pick up Webster-packs and scripts.
Mr Plevey also owns a pharmacy in Bega, from which he and staff are working to help their Tathra patients as much as possible.
“Most of the people that left are in Bega, and so they’ve been coming in, and we’ve been looking after them here, to make sure they have continuity of medication,” he says.
Evacuees are staying at the Bega Showground, and Mr Plevey says there has been significant community support extended to them.
“They opened up the pavilion for people to sleep. People have been sleeping in their cars. And the showground was accepting pets, they had pens made up for pets to hold them, and one of the local vets was checking on them.
“The community’s been very good at helping people.”
He says he has also received significant support and expressions of concern from the Pharmacy Guild, Guild insurance and his wholesaler, API.
But the devastation in Tathra is enormous, he told the AJP.
Police took a busload of Tathra evacuees who had lost their homes through the town on Tuesday morning.
“It was just to see what happened – they weren’t allowed off the bus, so they were taking them in to do a drive through,” Mr Plevey says. “That’d be terrible, to be on that bus.
“I heard about a lady today who only bought her house and moved in two months ago, and the house is now gone. It was a beautiful house, and she’d already been through another house fire, as well.
“In my street alone – my house was okay, but there are at least 10 houses in my street gone, and it’s not a very long street. Three of my direct neighbours lost houses.
“It’s just very sad for these people.”
Pharmacy Guild NSW president David Heffernan told the AJP that the Guild is offering support in any way it can.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the community of Tathra,” he says.
Pharmacists who are distressed can contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service here or on 1300 244 910.