Conjola bushfire documentary is a work from the heart

Documentary on Conjola bushfire disaster


Anthony 'Ash' Brennan has never had to film something so close, personal and emotionally raw.


Anthony 'Ash' Brennan has never had to film something so close, personal and emotionally raw.

He, like many others, lost a property when the Currowan bushfire exploded into the Lake Conjola area on NSW's South Coast on New Year's Eve.

Now the filmmaker has the tough but important task of documenting what happened on that terrible day.

He works in the sports broadcast area but is an experienced short film and documentary maker.

His documentary "We are Conjola - Our Fire Our Story" is still a work in progress and because Anthony knows what many of the people are still feeling, it's sure to be something special.

Anthony's own story could easily be part of the documentary.

The house he lost had been in the family for 35 years and he was planning on moving into it permanently.

Anthony then watched when what was left of his property was cleared away as part of the clean-up operation.

"When it was swept away, I experienced lots of thoughts and emotions," he said.

His brother Scott and his wife Kris also live in Conjola but their home still stands.

"When they [Scott and Kris] left their home, they thought it was gone," Anthony said.

Scott and Kris' home then became a place of "solace" where people gathered for a chat and a beer.

It was during one of these community support gatherings when Anthony had a lightbulb moment.

"I spoke to a local artist and he said to me 'I want to start creating again so I can heal'," Anthony said.

"It was a lightbulb moment."

He heard how other artists and writers were back creating wonderful pieces of art and decided the process needed to be documented.

"Originally the documentary was going on how important artists are to a community," he said.

Peter Dunn, from the Conjola Recovery group, then suggested the documentary should include stories of people who were on the ground when the fire exploded into their lives and homes.

Because of his connection to the community, many people came forward wanting to tell their stories.

He has heard many harrowing accounts of that brutal day.

"There have been tears in front and behind the camera," he said.

A grant of Convoy of Hope is helping him fund the documentary.

He needs help to make the documentary and hopes to hire a local crew to help.

People can go here to make a donation and contributions are fully tax-deductible via the Documentary Australia Foundation.

There is a suggestion the documentary will premiere on New Year's Eve.

"I have to be careful how it's done," he said.

His biggest fear is triggering off people's emotions because he knows the feelings are still raw for many locals.

"We do need a historic record of what happened," he said.

Anthony was not in Conjola when the disaster struck.

He had just finished working on the Boxing Day cricket Test and was due to head over to Perth to cover the tennis.

"On New Year Eve, I got a message from Fire Near Me saying it was too late to leave," he said even though he was not in the area at the time.

He then rang his brother.

"The last I heard from Scott was houses on Entrance Road were exploding all around him," Anthony said.

"It was like a war zone and I remember telling my boss from Tennis Australia I thought I had just lost my brother.

"We [Conjola] became famous for all the wrong reasons."

Scott and Kris thankfully were okay and then helped direct others to safety.

"Scott saved many lives that day," Anthony said.

As we head back behind the camera, Anthony admits parts of the journey have been hard.

Once, after two days straight listening and documenting harrowing stories, he needed to take some time out to look after himself.

We look forward to seeing what will be a powerful work.