Mr Counsel, who has a serious heart condition, was one of the first to be evacuated out of Mallacoota, via Black Hawk helicopter.
When he arrived home a few weeks later to a pile of ash, he found himself contemplating homelessness for the first time in many years.
Six weeks later and he –along with many other residents who also lost their home – is in what he describes as an “ongoing state of limbo”.
He has found it impossible to secure a roof over his head.
“We are in a crisis housing situation, there’s plenty of empty holiday houses but there’s no
rental accommodation,” Mr Counsel said.
Mallacoota Real Estate agent Kerri Warren said that while many holiday home owners had
been generous, there was still a “situation” when it came to finding permanent housing for locals.
“There is a definite uncertainty with property. Some leases are for a period of 12 weeks only.
“Tenants don’t have time to unpack their suitcases. The town has gone from a low homeless
rate to a substantial number,” Ms Warren said, adding that males aged 30 to 50 had
been the hardest to find housing for.
“You could have a perfect tenant and the perfect rental but when the owners find out it’s
for a single male, their mind changes very quickly. It’s something I don’t understand, they
are all good tenants.”
For those who haven’t found permanent housing there is a sense of helplessness in the air,
including some who are contemplating leaving town altogether.
One 50 year-old-male resident, who askednot to be named, said he’d had three houses fall
through before he was able to secure a last-minute lease, hours before he’d decided to
leave Mallacoota for good.
“I had my bags packed. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky. As much as anyone wants to
help me no one has an extra house up their sleeve,” he says.
Others are thinking of buying just to be able to stay in town.
With lack of success securing a rental, Don Ashby is considering buying a house to get the
family through the next couple of years.
After the fires destroyed their home, they set up camp in the front yard of a relative’s
Now, six weeks on, sitting in a deck chair underneath a sagging shade cloth that hangs
between two caravans and a bed sit, Don says he’d hoped they’d be settled somewhere by
“It was OK for a few days, but not longer,” he says, slapping a mozzie off his arm. “I imagine
when the rains come it’ll be hell on wheels.
“We’ve got to have somewhere to live where we can spread out and get on with our lives.”
Brooke Robinson also dreamt about buying just to have some space.
Although top and tailing with her 15-year-old son in a friend’s bungalow isn’t exactly the
ideal situation, she still considers herself one of the lucky ones.
“The select few,” says Brooke. “At least we have a place we can call home … for now.”