Sue Townsend had only been back from experiencing the highs of an overseas cruise for three days when she lost everything - her Tumbarumba home was burned to the ground in the New Year's Eve fires.
She told the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Monday that because the town was so wet and green, she had not been worried about bushfires.
"I assumed we were safe even though I knew on a logical level that we lived near forestry, we were near the bush," the Charles Sturt University professor said.
Tumbarumba residents were evacuated from the town until the immediate danger had passed, then they found out the worst had happened.
"My husband and a friend drove back up to have a look and it was all gone," Professor Townsend said.
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The situation did not hit her until she went back by herself five days later, then it was "really hard".
Money and financial assistance was the next challenge.
Professor Townsend and her husband received $1000 of federal financial assistance quickly, but were knocked back from Red Cross funding because they had no physical utility bills to use as proof of address.
After pressure on the Red Cross with others in the same situation, they were granted $20,000 in funding.
People, when in distress, should not have to jump through hoops to get helpProfessor Sue Townsend
"They need to be more helpful and think about what they're asking people to do," Professor Townsend said.
"It's very expensive actually being homeless so to speak.
"You've got to replace all your clothing ... we had animals farmed out all over the place that we've had to get feed to."
She called for better coordination of services, especially from the large aid organisations, saying others in the region were "treated appallingly".
"People, when in distress, should not have to jump through hoops to get help," she said.
"I've worked really hard all my life not to be dependent on anybody else, so for me being in this situation is like I've lost everything I've worked for.
"It's not just the material things, it's the not being dependent on welfare, not being dependent on anyone else."
After 10 weeks waiting for someone to clear the property of asbestos, the couple could finally move back to live in a caravan while they rebuild. But communication was difficult at first.
"There was no communication. There was no TV, there was no radio, you couldn't ring people ... no mobile phone, not internet access - nothing," Professor Townsend said.
"You had to have someone tell you there was a meeting in town.
"We missed the very first meeting in town because we didn't know about it."
She said there was a "high level of distress" still in Tumbarumba, especially because coronavirus had isolated people from each other.
The 2019-20 summer bushfires took 33 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and burnt about 12 million hectares across the nation.