Monday, February 16, 2009


The sky is hazy and the rising sun radiates a deep orange colour all over the landscape. As you step outside, you can smell it--the thick smoke of a fire. In other circumstances, this familiar smell would take me back to the campfires of my youth. Time spent camping with family or celebrating with friends when everyone would gather happily around the fire, warming their hands, telling stories, laughing. Yes, those were happy times. Today though, the smell of this smoke means something else. Today it means destruction. Today it means loss of life. Today it means people are homeless. Today it means towns have disappeared completely off the map. Today it means heartache.

The bushfires at the centre of this heartache began on Saturday, 7th of February 2009 (now known as Black Saturday), and have continued to rage with varying levels of intensity since. As I write this today, there are still six large fires burning out of control according to the CFA (Country Fire Authority) website. Rural areas on the fringe of Melbourne have spent the past week on tenterhooks as bushfires menaced their communities and threatened their lives and property. While most of the fire activity seems to have lessened in recent days, the fire season is by no means over and the threat of more fires is still very real.

I've never lived this close to natural disaster before. While our home and those of most Melbournians have never been under threat during these awful fires, our community has certainly felt the impact of the fires on our rural neighbours. I've watched endless hours of news footage, heard stories of survival and stories of peril, but I will never fully understand the terror that befell these good people of Victoria only a short week ago. To me, such a thing is incomprehensible.

Though we can't fully appreciate the feeling of barely escaping with your life or watching your family home burn to the ground, we can empathise with the tragedy. I've been so impressed with how actively Melbournians, Victorians and Australians more broadly have come together to support these small communities who have been ravaged by fire. It's impossible to set foot in any shop, school or community centre here in Melbourne and not see something relating to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal. EVERYONE is trying to do SOMETHING. Individuals are offering accommodation to displaced families--many times in their own homes. Businesses are donating goods and services to the survivors. Local communities are collecting donations of any imaginable item. Farmers are rounding up hay and feed for the livestock and native animals that have been affected. The community is coming together.

The often argumentative tone of talk back radio has taken on a renewed cooperative spirit with people calling in with offers of help and responses to need. The media have become more than storytellers or reporters--they've become a conduit for the disaster response. Alerting the wider community to the specific needs of the survivors, the conditions of the affected areas and helping us all come to terms with the reality that now engulfs us.

While I know the days ahead will be full of obstacles and stumbling blocks for these shell shocked communities as they begin to pick up the pieces, I do have faith that the greater Melbourne community, the greater Victorian community, the greater Australian community and the greater world community stands prepared to help in any and every way we know how. This, after all, is the essence of the human spirit.

From the Shadows
A world of ashes leached of life.
The colours swept away.
A paradise lies lost beneath a shroud
Of ashen grey.
And yet in time the veil will fall.
The streams once more will flow.
And from the shadows 'tween the trees
New life will surely grow.
Poem by Graeme Base (The Sunday Age 15 Feb 2009)


Anonymous said...

Such a heartfelt post. We feel the same way, being close to this tragedy is so surreal You want to do anything you can, and know that nothing can bring loved ones back, put things back the way they were.

Rita said...

Beautifully written. We can never give back what is lost, we can only give for their futures. I still shake my head in disbelief that this happened.

Annelise said...

I can not believe they are still burning, how horrible. I am glad that you are safe but saddened by all those who have lost so much.

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

It's horrible, thanks for writing this.

suzinoz said...

melbournebound, Rita, Annelise and FGIS--
Thanks for your comments. This week seems to be about picking up the pieces and preparing for more fires. Monday and Tuesday are looking like more high risk days. Fingers crossed the worst is over.

Bush Babe said...

Great post. I think we all feel it to some degree. We are much further away of course, but still...

Today's televised memorial services were beautiful and heartfelt - did you attend at all?


PS Thanks for linking to me on the sidebar.

suzinoz said...

BB-Thanks for your comment. We didn't attend the memorial services today but did watch them from home. One of our family members did go and said it was lovely to be there amongst everyone. She did comment on the fact that the arena wasn't full. I think they were expecting a lot more people to turn up, but it seems like people observed the day of mourning in their own communities instead of heading into the city.

Maddie said...

Hey you! I am so glad I've been keeping up with your story here - I've been worried about all of you. But then thought I should let you know I've been following along . . . . it is very tragic and our thoughts and prayers are with all you Melbournians as you work towards recovery.

Anonymous said...

Hey Suz,

Sorry so long no comment. I'm finally visiting the family in the U.S.

It's frustrating to know that the fires were started by humans. It's hard to see anything positive in a disaster like this. I'm glad everyone has banded together.