IMAGINE losing everything you own.
The irreplaceable things like your birth certificate, personal belongings and a roof over your head.
That's the sad reality for Elisabeth Bertolet who lost her home on December 19, 2019 during the Black Summer bushfires.
"It went through and took everything, by a quarter-to-four we were wiped out," the Dargan resident, near Lithgow, in NSW's Central West on the edge of the Blue Mountains, said.
She felt she and husband Tom were reasonably prepared but they were no match for a roaring fire front.
"At the last minute the fires came in and we were told we had five minutes to get out, all we could do was pack the two dogs into the car and drive out," she said.
"We headed over to Mount Victoria and all the way there we were surrounded by fire, how we got through that I don't know but we did, it was quite unreal.
"It was like we were living a nightmare waiting to wake up, but we didn't wake up of course because it was real, it was absolutely atrocious."
It's been a rough 18 months for Elisabeth losing her home and just when things couldn't get any worse, Tom died in June last year.
"Actually going back and seeing our home gone it was just devastating, it was so hard to take in and very depressing. It was just the two of us, and when he passed away it had just been never ending I'm afraid," she said.
The first step to rebuilding
Elisabeth said due to asbestos in their 1975 built home, it was cleared out by regional contractors Laing O'Rourke.
"We built 46 years ago and of course in the older places there's asbestos so we waited for the property to be cleared. They [Laing O'Rourke] took everything with them.
"We then had our trees cleared out so there was sort of nothing left so to speak, it'll never look like it was ever again," she said.
She said it had been one thing after another and she often felt like she was drowning.
"Sometimes I pinch myself and say is it for real? All this what's happening? But apparently it is."
"I lost absolutely everything, you know I had to go to Service NSW the other day and they wanted my birth certificate but I haven't got it. I originally came from the Netherlands, so now I have to somehow see if I can get a copy from over there," she said.
A positive turn
While life seemed gloomy for Elisabeth, she soon saw light at the end of the tunnel.
With the help of global denim leader Levi's and not for profit organisation Habitat for Humanity, she has been able to reside in a cabin on her block while her new home undergoes construction. The partnership between the organisations has helped to support many Australians hardest hit by the natural disaster and rebuild their lives and homes.
"I've been living up here on my property. Originally we were offered a recovery pod and I survived a year in there and then I said I can't live like this anymore," Elisabeth said.
"Step by Step [Disaster Support Service] suggested to get in touch with Habitat and they offered me a cabin which has been absolutely amazing, I call it my mini Taj Mahal."
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Levi's donated $30,000 to support Habitat's National Bushfire Program across NSW, VIC, QLD and SA and supply tools and tradespeople to the rehabilitation of properties like Elisabeth's.
"It's amazing because Habitat offered the cabin and when it arrived it was pretty decrepit, it needed an awful lot of work done to it but the Habitat and the Levi's people fixed it all up," she said.
"They also made me a garden special section I'd set a part that I was going to get ready eventually, as a memorial garden to Tom and they did that for me. It looks absolutely amazing."
Elisabeth said the organisations have worked hard to give her back her life and rebuild her home.
"They worked so hard and I'll always be grateful to them. I will hopefully be in my new house by Christmas," she said.
She said she couldn't wait to get into her rebuilt house although it would be different to her old home.
"It'll be nothing like the house we had because there's no way we could afford to build what we had before but that's okay because it was just the two of us and we don't want nothing grand."
Home sweet home
Elisabeth said it was important to be able to come home, especially to her garden which to her surprise, survived the ferocious fires.
"The fire went everywhere around it but it didn't burn my veggie garden and it's quite a big one," she said.
"But that was very important for us to be able to come back home and the garden means an awful lot to me and it did to Tom."
She said people would suggest that she relocate but she wanted to go home.
"People couldn't understand, they'd say to me 'you haven't got a home', I said 'yes I do, I have my land, my garden, that's my home'."
Road to recovery
Elisabeth said she finally felt like she was back to the land of the living.
"In the last month or so I have started to become me again, nothing seemed to make sense but it's sort of coming together now," she said.
"I don't think I could have gone on much longer, because there have been some very low points, it was hard enough losing the house but then losing Tom... just trying to get over it all."
She said Levi's and Habitat for Humanity had been amazing in pulling her out of a dark hole.
"They do so much good and I am so thankful. There's been lots of people involved who have helped me along the way and I will always remember that."
Levi's Head of Marketing Trent Bos said it had been a privilege to help rebuild Elisabeth's home, property and gardens.
"Elisabeth is one of the many resilient Australians who have been severely impacted by natural disasters and it has been a privilege to come together with Habitat for Humanity Australia, tradespeople and volunteers to help her."
Habitat for Humanity CEO Nicole Stanmore said the organisation were moved by Elisabeth's story and were also happy to support the restoration of her property.