In just a matter of moments, father-of-two Nathan Goncalves watched his whole world go up in flames.
In what was supposed to be a year on the road, making magical memories with his wife Lauren and their two young children — Mr Goncalves never imagined their dream trip would be cut so tragically short.
Starting their lap around the country in early November, Mr and Mrs Goncalves had made the decision to see more of South Australia — a place they’d visited before and loved — all from the seat of their Nissan Patrol. The kids were yet to start school, and after putting their family home up for rent — there was nothing to tie them to Sydney.
Having dreamt of exploring more of Australia’s country and coastline, the pair spent much of their savings on a $95,000 van and filled it with everything they held dear — from family photos, to pieces of jewellery and Christmas presents for their five and nine-month-old children.
But, just days into the new year, having driven four hours from Port Broughton in South Australia and setting up camp in Fitzgerald Bay, Mr Goncalves and his son went for a swim. Searching for crabs and wading knee-deep in the crystal clear waters, the moment was abruptly shattered by the screams of his mother-in-law on the shoreline.
“I turned around and all I could see was smoke,” Mr Goncalves told news.com.au.
“I assumed it was from the car … which was parked behind our caravan. I bolted to the shore as quick as I could.”
By the time he’d made it back to his campsite, the fire had almost fully engulfed his 4WD and had quickly spread to the corner of his four-month-old caravan.
“People came over with fire extinguishers … I think we went through about 7 or 8,” he explained.
“But being an electrician, and while I only have a limited background in fires, I do know
certain fires can only use certain extinguishers. We were using water, which I know you shouldn’t use on electrical, but we were just doing anything we could to save what we had.”
In absolute desperation, and accepting the car had been lost to the inferno, Mr Goncalves and the other campers at the site frantically changed their focus to saving the van.
“When we realised we’d lost the car, which we had spent so much focus on trying to move,
we tried to save the van,” an emotional Mr Goncalves said through tears.
“I jumped on top of it, trying to put water on it. No one had the right hitch for the van for us to move it, and no one had an extinguisher left.
“My wife and I were so desperate … we were standing there throwing sand at it. The hardest part was our kids’ side of the van … their double bunk bed was the first to go.”
Mr Goncalves said within half an hour, the van and everything inside — including his wedding ring and polaroid pictures of family members — had turned to ash in the sand.
“My son at that point was just bawling his eyes out … he just wanted his bear,” Mr Goncalves explained.
“The wind and the heat … it was all just so intense. It was so very dangerous, I honestly thought at one stage I was going to die.”
While the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, Mr Goncalves assumes that given the location of the original flame and the intensity, it must’ve been electrical.
Having now returned to Sydney, just three months into their intended year-long adventure, Mr Goncalves is working through more heartache after realising their insurance policy only covered a small fraction of the van’s contents.
“I wouldn’t wish this upon my worst enemy,” he said.
“We had both car and caravan insured … but when we picked the van up, I guess you never really think you will lose everything and we rushed it. So the van itself was underinsured, and we didn’t realise the contents was only for $1000 [worth of items].
“We stopped counting how much we had in the van when we got to $50k. You don’t realise how much you have on a trip like this.
“So my message is learn about it [insurance], and make sure to have the right one in place.”
A GoFundMe page has been launched by friends to help the family.