'I Thought I Was Gone': Andrew Constance Was Changed By The Bushfires
Andrew Constance said he thought he was going to die in the bushfires, laying bare the effects battling the blazes on the NSW south coast.
The NSW state politician and his wife Jennifer sat down with Lisa Wilkinson in an emotional interview for The Sunday Project.
Constance's electorate of Bega lost over 900 homes when fires tore through during this summer's unprecedented bushfire season.
The Liberal politician was on the front lines -- defending not just his own property, but the properties and lives of his neighbours and friends.
Jennifer and their children sheltered at Corrigans Beach with hundreds of others from the town of Malua Bay, as the firefront raced towards them. Constance stayed back at their property, putting out fires and pouring thousands of litres of water on their house.
But things quickly took a turn for the worst, with Constance believing he would not make it out alive.
"I think when I heard it, and I know people say it's like a jet engine, but I could hear, like it's like crumbling sticks in a distance," he said.
"So it was like a radiant heat wave just came off the fire, like I could see where the fire was up the valley.
"I thought... I’m gonna melt here, like I just thought, you know, I thought I was gone."
Constance was eventually reunited with family and his house was saved, but he is acutely aware of the devastation felt by so much of his electorate -- many residents whom he has known for years.
His attitude towards politics has changed. He admitted that he, along with many other politicians, are "out of touch" with the Australian public.
"Scripted talking points, advisors, making sure that the messages were this, that and everything else, particularly around transport," Constance said.
"I was so hated in that role before Christmas, it wasn’t my fault why things weren’t working but someone’s got to be blamed."
The politician said the incident between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and angry residents in Cobargo was the catalyst in his realisation the profession of politics is "just so wrong in this country".
"(I was) so alone and the interesting thing about being alone in a disaster is that... you have all sorts of things go through your head," he said.
"I don’t wanna be like that anymore."
Project host Wilkinson said in an Instagram post that she found "hard to put into words" her experiences in visiting Constance's home and seeing the devastation of the fires.
"It was also hard to hold back tears, especially after hearing the heartbreaking stories of some of those hardest hit, and the countless acts of beautiful kindness and breathtaking bravery that will probably never make the headlines. But the locals know them," she said.
"The backdrop in this pic also tells some of the story. So much is burnt to a blackened crisp, but after delivering it’s angry worst, the changing climate has also gifted drenching rains, and the landscape is now fluffy with neon green shoots. It brings hope, but it’s also strangely confusing."
Watch the full interview on The Sunday Project at 6.30pm on Channel 10.