That Sunday afternoon, I stayed near my phone, hoping it would not ring.

I kept thinking to myself, no news is good news.

For those unaware, my home town of Tathra, NSW has recently been devastated from the recent bushfires.

At first, I did not know how bad of a situation it might become.

Mum had called me around lunch time on Sunday to say a fire had started, just outside of Tathra, and that it was getting more aggressive.

She said that due to the strong westerly wind, there was a chance the fire could roar through the surrounding bush, and find its way into Tathra.

At the time I tried to keep Mum calm, by reassuring her that there was too much ground for the fire to cover before it could reach Tathra.

Growing up on the coastal town, bushfires seemed a distant threat compared to shark attacks and beach safety.

However, while the area is surrounded by water, it is also half-surrounded by bushland.

So I had convinced myself that Mum was simply thinking the worst and organising a plan for my older brother’s sake.

With my brother James having autism, our family has always had to plan ahead and give him due notice if there was ever going to be a change to his routine, in a bid to make the changes easier for him to adapt.

A few hours later, my phone rang again. It was Mum.

This time I could feel the panic and fear in her voice.

She quickly asked what things I would like her to pack from our house, as she was getting a list together of the things that couldn’t be replaced if the fires were to reach our house.

The bushfires had begun to move rapidly towards Tathra and alerts had reached some but not others, to leave town and meet at the evacuation point; Bega Showground.

What made things more tense was that my Pop wouldn’t leave my grandparents house.

He chose to stay. He wasn’t leaving his beloved home; it was an enduring time for my family.

Dad couldn’t leave Pop by himself, so he made the decision to stay back also – while my Mum, Nan and James relocated to the Showground.

It was unquestionably the scariest day of my life.

I have never felt so helpless.

What made things worse was I couldn’t keep calling Dad or Pop either to regularly check-in, because they needed to be looking out for each other; checking the front-door and the back-door to make sure the bushfires weren’t getting too close to my grandparents house.

Throughout the entire afternoon, I couldn’t speak to anyone.

I was rapidly checking my newsfeed, and googling to find any extra info I could, to stay up to date with the situation.

Eventually, not only was I getting updates that Tathra was asked to evacuate, but that it was now declared unsafe to leave town.

Tathra was placed into lockdown, with my Pop and Dad staying behind to face the fires.

I just kept thinking, no news is good news, so I was praying my phone wouldn’t ring.

I already knew my Nan was sick and my brother wasn’t feeling great either, so Mum had a lot on her plate.

The fires continued to burn strong until Tuesday morning.

Almost 48 hours went by.

Pop & Dad were bunkered down inside the house, while Mum, Nan & James waited helplessly at Bega Showgrounds, wondering what was happening outside the evacuation point.

It wasn’t until later that Tuesday night, when emergency services were able to control the fire, did my family and the rest of the town receive the “all clear” that they could return back to their homes to assess the damage.

I was so grateful to learn that Mum & Dad’s house was not destroyed, and that my grandparents home had also survived the bushfires.

But those precious moments of relief were quickly washed away by survivors guilt.

For anyone in Tathra, it didn’t really matter whether your house survived or not, because in a town of 1,500 people, we all knew the families and businesses who had just lost everything.

It was truly devastating.

On Monday, a full week after the fires, I called Dad to check in on him and to see how he was going.

He isn’t the kind of person to really show his emotions too much.

But on that morning, he just burst into tears before I could say anything.

He, like all of us, just felt so guilty that our family’s homes had survived.

We both became quite emotional, and it was really hard for me to finish the conversation because I had never seen that side of him before.

We both just love our town of Tathra.

In our community whenever one of our own falls down, we all fall down.

Tathra raised me to be the person I am today.

The local primary school was pretty much my childhood; before, during and after school!

The best thing was it didn’t matter to any of us kids how old someone was; we were all mates.

All our footy games would include kids from as young as grade 3 right through to grade 6.

I remember this one day, I was out on the footy field and I decided to take a run from dummy half.

I got caught by one of the markers, and they didn’t do a bad job at all of sticking the tackle.

One of the older boys came over to me, and told me, “When you can run faster and you can throw, then you’re allowed to take the game on. But until then, stop hogging the ball.”

It was on those local park grounds where I learned how to play footy. The right way.

I was devastated to learn there were areas of the school grounds which were affected by the bushfires. Thankfully, the damage is not serious.

Of course, other areas are not as lucky.

While I wish it was under different circumstances, it is times like this when community spirit shines through and I know Tathra has an abundance of it.

For a population of 1,500 – we always battle and help each other in our times of need.

Even as a young fella, I remember standing out the front of the local newsagency a number of times to sell raffle tickets to help raise money for national footy carnivals.

There wouldn’t have been a single family in town that did not come down to the newsagency those mornings to hand me a $5 note.

I have and will never, forget that.

I’ve always been so proud to let people know I am from Tathra. I know we will push through this difficult period and together we will rebuild our community.

The community took me under their wing and made sure I was able to reach my dreams of playing in the NRL.

The people of Tathra didn’t have to help me out. They did not owe me anything. But they dipped into their pockets and supported me when I needed them most.

That strikes to the character of the town; they are just, salt-of-the-earth good people, who are willing to help others out in their time of need.

So now, it is my turn to do all I can to help them get back on their feet.

In writing this, I hope to spread the word to as many people as I possibly can. Please help raise money for the small country town that raised me.

I understand money does not grow on trees, but any support from the public would be greatly appreciated.

There is no donation too small.

The local council has advised that the Bega Valley Shire Council’s Mayoral Appeal Fund is the best avenue to donate to Tathra.

Please dig deep, and help us lift the spirit of those affected by the bushfires.

Together, we can all help rebuild this little seaside town. My home, Tathra.