First hearing of the fires from a phone call from my old workplace at the community childcare centre struck horror into my heart swiftly followed by a number of hurried phone calls looking for more information... where exactly was it? which way was it heading? had anyone been hurt? were our friends OK? how serious really was it? should we come straight home? Over the next few hours Mr Lark and I were hurriedly trying to focus on packing up the Lark stands at Life and Style with the phone pretty much to our ears. The fire having started in Sailors Falls would have been right to the doorstep of our friends Kate, Brendan and their girls, were they alright? they have a beautiful organic farm, would this their livelihood have made it? As news reached us of the direction it was moving I called my Australian Mum Annie who's property sits atop of the Loddon Valley. Her response that she could see spot fires in the valley below her but was staying to defend her property made my stomach clench into knots for the rest of the night with half hourly calls flying back and forth... thank goodness for mobile phones.
I am really a very isolated person. Not by location but by choice. I choose not to watch television, not to read the papers (except for the crossword in the local free paper the Advocate) and my preferred listening of Triple J only gives me brief zappy snatches of world events. I just can't hack it. I just haven't learnt how to desensitize myself to the words, the images, the frustrating and often horrific things that happen in the world. This isn't because I don't care, far from it, I just can't stand to receive this information in a glossy media package, forced down my throat by an inanely grinning, immaculately coiffured 'news' reader. So often just watching the morning news reduces me to a snivelling wreck, it punctures my shell and haunts me for the rest of the day.
There is a lot to be said for being in the 'thick' of it, whilst in Sydney a 15 second news update gave us images of this...
Our friends and neighbours were witnessing this.....
One of the most wonderful qualities of country living Australians is their pragmatism. I am once again reminded how alien I am to this environment. I have never witnessed a bushfire, never lived through one and never wish to. My quaking pommy heart fears the worst, panics and wants to flee at the merest sniff of smoke. While I lay there on Black Saturday in my spare room, looking out the window at my bush view, under the fan, in 45 degree heat I just wished it would be over. I just wanted to be comfortable again. I had no idea that people were dying in their homes, that communities just like ours were being destroyed. It could have been us and I lying in my sweating, isolated state would have been oblivious.
I now have a 'fire risk day routine'. A local family of farmers the Bomphreys are lynch pins of the CFA and my crossword buddy Amanda B is an information hub. I don't think you could water your garden without Amanda knowing all the details and CFA pager in hand she checks in with me if there are any call outs in our district.
It amazes me at how almost blase' locals are about fire. I realise they are not, but in a town full of 'blow ins', city folk searching for a tree-change, the true locals who's whole family were original white settlers in this area, are the ones to whom this is just part of life. Fire is part of the natural process of this land. It has happened before, it will happen again and when it does they are the ones out in the trucks fighting it. Smeaton lost its truck to the blaze and the boys who could have lost their lives there are still out trying to control it and keep us panicking 'blow-ins' safe. The Bomphreys helped so much and gave so much of their precious time to help when Lyns house burnt down, and they worked night and day on Monday. Sue who's home, farm and family were right on the fires front line called to apologise that she couldn't complete some Lark making she was doing as she had run out of ribbons! When, incredulous, I asked if her property was OK she told me that they had lost some fence-lines to the fire... incredible, with such a thing going on in her back-yard she is worrying about being reliable to Lark. Beck from Dandelion took home and looked after a couple of young teenagers stranded in town and looked after them as well as her own 5 kids, this image is from her blog.
There may be fires, there may be drought, there may be tougher times ahead but surrounded by such inspirational people as these, you could not, not even for an instant convince me to leave this place. I am a blow-in, a novelty local pom in a bush community, I will never be truly part of this land even when I am interred within it. But a house does not make a Home, Home is where the heart is and there is certainly no place like Home, sweet Home.