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Family looks for a permanent home after fire

Brett McCall’s boys George, 12, Brookes, 11, Barney, 9, and Robbie, 4. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

TOM TAYLOR
[email protected]

When the house he was renting in Martinborough burned to the ground, Brett McCall lost everything except the clothes on the line.

Having bounced around temporary accommodation for the past month, McCall now needs to secure a more permanent home where he could continue to spend time with his children.

On the morning of August 27, McCall was working on a vineyard in Gladstone when he received a call from a colleague.

He learned that a fire had gutted the interior of his house. Luckily, no one was at home at the time.

“It was a bit surreal. [When I arrived,] there were probably about 20 firemen in there. I was sitting on the footpath for about 45 minutes watching all these guys look at the house.”

The house has been demolished.

McCall had rented the house since February 2020, when he arrived from Australia with an aim to get more involved in his boys’ lives.

He initially shared the house with fellow vineyard workers, who eventually turned into more permanent flatmates. When joined by McCall’s boys, they formed a kind of “modern family”.

The boys, aged four to 12, lived with their mother in Carterton during the week and usually spent every second weekend with their father.

After the fire, McCall had received support from many corners.

Owner of the house Joe Howells had started a Givealittle page which raised more than $5000 to help the family get back on their feet.

Members of the community had also reached out to offer McCall temporary housing.

Alison Tipler and Alan Wilkinson, owners of Patuna Farm in Ruakokoputuna, took him in on the night of the fire.

“Then the journey began,” McCall said. “On the farm, it was really cool in terms of the rural setting, but then there was no access to phone or internet, so I was further disconnected.”

McCall moved into emergency housing in a motel but said this made him feel the loss of his home all the more starkly.

For the plast two weeks, he had lived in a cottage on the property of Sonia and David Wansbrough, 4km out of Martinborough.

The Wansbroughs also came from Australia and had insight into the devastation that bush fires could cause families.

“Sometimes just having a stable base and a bit of your own space, and feeling like people are looking out for you, can make a real difference to someone being able to get positive and move onto whatever is next for them,” Sonia said.

Although the cottage was compact, it was large enough for McCall’s boys to stay.

“They’re lovely kids,” Sonia said. “The first time they came, they brought a nice big bunch of flowers in.”

However, McCall could not stay there forever. With other people lined up to stay at the cottage, he would have to leave by October 9.

“All the boys are asking what’s going to happen to me in relation to where I’m living. I’ve just told them I’m going to find a place suitable and close to them.”

McCall was grateful for the support he had received since the fire.

“In these types of disasters, the community comes to the front, and I’ve felt that.”

He said he would gratefully accept any offer of housing that allowed him to be close to his boys.

“It’s the dislocation and loss of the home where I could see the boys which keep me up at night … That’s the hard thing – am I ever going to get a place that allows me to do that?”

How to help: If you have anything suitable for Brett McCall and his boys to rent, please contact him at [email protected]

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