'Old codger' who hugged PM evacuated again

Hannah Higgins
Owen Whalan, 85, who was comforted by Scott Morrison in Taree, has been evacuated for a second time

As a hospital chaplain Owen Whalan is used to other people turning to him in times of need.

But as he anxiously waited to hear if his home still stood after fires ravaged NSW's mid-north coast it was his turn to cry - and he did so on the shoulder of the prime minister.

Mr Whalan, 85, was evacuated from his home on Half Chain Road in Koorainghat on Friday as a savage bushfire bore down, forcing his family to flee.

As he waited in a Taree evacuation centre on Sunday to hear whether his home of 50 years had survived, he broke down as he shared an embrace with Scott Morrison.

A photograph capturing that moment has now travelled across the world.

"The prime minister with an old codger that was in a bit of a state, and that was me," Mr Whalan told AAP on Tuesday.

"We were praying together for strength for the fire people and strength for each and every one of us. We spent time in prayer for everybody."

Mr Whalan's prayers were answered on Tuesday morning when he was finally allowed to return to his home. It was surrounded by blackened earth but stood unscathed.

"We didn't know when we went out this morning what would be still standing," he said.

"The fire came through our site and it burnt just off our boundary and my son said it was as if God said to the fire you can go there but no further. It was an absolute answer to prayer."

However, the flames then returned, and Mr Whalan was evacuated once again to Taree on Tuesday afternoon.

As he waits at a packed evacuation centre, he says his faith is helping him get through.

"People keep saying to me, well you haven't fallen to pieces," he said.

"I've been a hospital chaplain for many years so I know what it's like to be there, but I've never been in the middle of it, I've been able to support other people."