Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The fires in Victoria February2009

I went to Melbourne on Saturday, hoping to go to the sufm beach mission reunion and then catch up with all my boys. It didn't happen. The temperature soared to 47C in Melbourne and I sat and sweltered in Geoff's little flat in St Kilda until late afternoon when things went from bad to grim. brenden rang me to tell me Taggerty was in the line of fire and Marysville was burning. Before it got to the news, I knew.Then I had a call saying the rail line to Warrnambool had been cut by fire and I might not get home the next day.

Then the phone calls began. Bewildered or upset or just plain, in denia,l calls and I started watching the computer screen like an addict and making calls to people I had not spoken to for a long time. For the past three days I have been crying and crying or calling people or consoling people or crying some more. We came home by bus on Sunday night but not without me fighting myself because I felt I needed to stay there to do, I don't know what. I listend to story after story of vicitims and heroes on the radio streaming through my computer and I accessed all the official sites and on Sunday none of us could find our mother. We may not speak to her, she may have disowned us but none of us wanted her dead and she could not be found. Then the horrific pictures on the Media...ariel shots of Kinglake and Marysville. Well that was like a sledgehammer to my gut. I could not recognise the place. I could not work out what I was looking at. Now three days later the pictures of victims are in the media. Every time I see a face or a name that is familiar to me, my heart lurches and my gut churns.
I grew up in the Acheron valley in Taggerty. It isn't the yarra valley but they are conneted by the Maroondah hwy. I went to Taggerty primary school and Alexandra high school. I got my licence in Marysville at the police station. I worked in every one of the historical guest houses in Marysville starting as a kitchen hand and working up to chef and in the Rex Cafe I made chips and potatoe cakes from scratch and cafe meals for tourists and learned to convert from imperial to metric measurements in that shop in the main street.I worked as the cook in the Narbethong and Buxton hotels for four different publicans and I worked in the Taggerty Pioneer education centre and throughout Eildon and Alexandra. I picked raspberries in summer in Molesworth and the rivalry between Yea and Alexandra high schools was the local long standing teen 'thing' because the towns were separated by hills, rivers and 20km which put them in different shires. I swam in the Acheron river and the 'meeting of the waters' in Buxton where three rivers merge. I climbed the Cathderal mountain and skinny dipped in the Eildon weir. My step father is buried in Marysville along with other loved ones and his family were all from Marysville. Generations of my family came from Healesville, Marysville, Chum creek, Warburton and Kinglake.I learned assertive driving on the Black spur and boxes cutting into Healesville and all out pet kangaroos went to the sanctuary, eventually. On of my sisters has lost two friends in Kinglake, One brother found his friend with no soles on his shoes. Another sister rang her friend in Narbethong who could not get out in his car because his wheels were melted so he ran out and his shoes melted and then he kept going and his feet burnt but he is alive. One of my brothers had his house survive two onslaughts as the wind changed. My nephew sent his young wife and children out of the fire zone only to have her held up with the closure of the Hume Highway. That brother and another one and my nephew stayed to fight the fires. My mother had to smash her car through burning trees to get out of her property and then she was trapped in Alexandra where she still is, in a state of shock and disbelief. All my childhood mememtoes were in her house. Photos, paintings, a piano I won in a competition, school reports and certificates and the lock of hair belonging to my step dad.
I have watched the CFA, DSE and ABC websites like glue since late Saturday when I had first notification of the fires from my firstborn son. That is his home too although he now lives in the city he spent his early years and some of his teens in that part of the country and regularly visits all his family and friends there, riding his motorbike over the spur and through reefton. I was living in Stawell when the Grampians fires went through. I attended funerals and helped out in all the fundraising for the vicitms of that horrible disaster but it was nothing compared to this. The wimmera was never my home like Murrindindi and the Acheron valley are deep in my heart. My father and his wife and one of my sisters live at the base of mount William in the Grampians and they lost absolutely everything. This time my mother has lost everything and I sit here safe in Warrnambool grieving for so many people I have connections with. One sister had a house at Chum creek, one had a property at Buxton and her children used to go to Buxton ps. Many of my young Christian friends, the ones I fed for most of summer on beach missions in Queenscliff and Warrnambool were in Marysville when the fires came through. They were evacuated to Alexandra and trapped there overnight because the Hume was cut off. They are all safe now but they are all badly shaken from the close encounters with the fires...something they never thought to experience in their lifetimes and my heart aches for them. Everyone I know has had some connection to the valley or kinglake. They went there for holidays as kids or have family there or lived there a while. They call to share their links with me because we all need support in this nightmare time. I left St Kilda on Sunday in the middle of teh St Kilda festival and found the experience surreal. I walked in shock through crowds of gaily clad, laughing festival goers and wanted to grab them and shake them and yell in their faces "stop laughing...stop laughing, don't you know people are burning?" but I said nothing and walked as fast as I could through the crowds. Leave them to their joy, too soon they will feel this shock I feel.
My step dad was a fire spotter for the forest commision long before it became DSE. Every summer I would climb the tower on mt Gordon with him and watch the eagles fly close to the platform and gaze out into the far horizons. It was a magnificent experience. When he died, his funeral was in a tiny church in Marysville and hundreds of people were there. He was such a kind and caring man and so many people knew him. I sang that day and organised people because I do that kind of thing...organise people. Now I am just sitting crying and feeling so helpless and traumatising my poor little children as they watch me go into meltdown over places I attached all my memories to. Trees will grow again but they wont be the same trees. Gone are the giant tree trunks we all sat on in the park. Those old guesthouses are only memories in photos now and the photos are simply ash indistinguishable from all the other ash.