Aussie servicewoman to return home from war zone to bushfire 'devastation'
Shane Murtagh had been looking forward to his wife's return from Afghanistan for months.
However, after bushfires decimated the couple's farm the reunion is expected to be bittersweet.
Wing Commander Robyn Murtagh has been in the Air Force for 30 years and has spent the last six months in a war zone where she received a commendation and medal from the US Army.
The last time Mrs Murtagh saw her husband was for a short eight-day visit over Christmas, just days before the bushfire crisis left their 30-acre property in Eurobodalla, bought only four months earlier, black and charred.
"She's coming home to absolute devastation, we copped the worst of it," Mr Murtagh said.
"A fireball literally ripped through our property."
The couple lost their cottage, motor home, trailer, a boat as well as significant damage to their backhoe needed to rebuild.
"When she left, the property was green, right after the tens of thousands of dollars we spent on the cottage and the home and she's coming home to black and I don't know how she'll take it."
After years on the move living in almost every state in Australia, the couple decided to purchase the farm so they could run their apiary and enjoy the peaceful lifestyle when Mrs Murtagh ended her deployment.
"We bought the property because it was beautiful and luscious, and we thought when the eucalypts flowers the bees would just love it there and now there's nothing left and who knows how long it will take for it to grow back."
While in Afghanistan, Mrs Murtagh had limited means of communication with her husband and family back home.
"You can imagine my wife in Afghanistan, not sure if our house is okay or if I'm okay. It's stressful enough as it is," Mr Murtagh said.
As an avid animal enthusiast, Mrs Murtagh fell in love with the property that always had an abundance of bird life, wombats and kangaroos that would visit each day and despite being in Afghanistan, she made sure to contact her husband and encourage him to assist injured wildlife.
"She would have been absolutely devastated to see the animals," Mr Murtagh said.
"It broke my heart, I had to shoot some of the animals coming out of the bush all burnt.
"I've never heard an animal scream in pain, I didn't know they did that, it was horrible."
Since early January, Mr Murtagh has been desperately trying to repair what he can before his wife returns, however the devastation was so extreme, the clean up is likely to take months.
Fallen and charred trees still need to be cleared, an exploded septic tank remains on the property and piles of rubble have yet to be removed.
"I'm excited for her to come home but I'm not excited for her to see the farm," he said.
Despite her years in the Air Force enduring the hardships of war, Mr Murtagh said the loss of their farm could be one of the most challenging experiences she's yet to face.
"She's very tough, she's been through a lot but honestly, I don't know if she'll cope with this."
"My wife isn't one to cry but I expect there'll be tears when she sees it," he said.
After a traumatic few weeks, Mr Murtagh said having his wife come home is still something to look forward to.
"Since Christmas up until a week ago, it's just been one thing after another."
"But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. My wife is coming home."
He said they now plan to sell their home in Narooma and use the money to build their "dream home" on the farm where they plan to live permanently.
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