Bleak future: Tabulam pensioner and Vietnam veteran Colin DeFenker stands in front of the burnt-out remains of his home which was destroyed while he was on holiday.
Bleak future: Tabulam pensioner and Vietnam veteran Colin DeFenker stands in front of the burnt-out remains of his home which was destroyed while he was on holiday. Matt Meir

Veteran returns home to ashes

VIETNAM veteran Colin DeFenker ended his dream holiday in Tahiti last week, only to come home to a living nightmare.

Upon arriving back in Australia last Friday, the 68-year old pensioner entered the driveway of his rural Tabulam property to find his house burnt to the ground.

“I was stunned. I was totally gob smacked,” Mr DeFenker told The Northern Star when we visited his property yesterday.

After saving for more than 10 years for the flight to Tahiti to visit his relatives, the experience of Mr DeFenker’s trip was dashed just hours after returning to the Northern Rivers.

In among the lush bushland there was little left of his home, bar a pile of twisted and warped tin which  covered the charred timber remains.

Beyond the blackened debris, Mr DeFenker’s bath tub and a partially melted water tank were two of the only recognisable things left.

Mr DeFenker said he had lived in his home for 25 years after building it with his own hands.

Bravely trying to contain his emotions yesterday, Mr DeFenker said he wasn’t sure what he would do next.

“Since the Vietnam War, this has been my salvation,” he said.

“My whole life was here.

“It’s pretty devastating.”

However, Mr DeFenker is sure of one thing – rebuilding in the same spot is not an option.

“I don’t feel like I could build back here,” he said.

Instead, Mr DeFenker will try to start over on another part of his property.

“I’m the kind of bloke who gets knocked down and then gets back up again,” he said.

But with the pensioner unable to afford home and contents insurance, Mr DeFenker is without funds to begin his life afresh.

Thankfully, close friends have quickly come to Mr DeFenker’s aid, providing him with a roof over his head since arriving back in Tabulam.

They will also try and raise money to help Mr DeFenker. Plans are already in place to hold a raffle, as well as set up a fund to collect donations of money or goods and services.

The Bonalbo RSL Sub-branch will administer the fund.

Calls of support to Mr DeFenker can be made to 6665 1150. Donations can be made via Frank Van Leeuwen, of the Bonalbo RSL Sub-branch, on 6665 3237.

Police said local officers and detectives were still trying to ascertain the cause of the blaze.



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