When a community stands together
I stood helplessly on the verandah of our family farm with a garden hose in my hand as the fire came up and over the ridge towards us. I’d wet down the roof, the walls, the windows, the woodpile, everything I could with a garden hose using domestic pressure. My sister turned to me and said, ‘we have to go’. I had less than 2 square metres of verandah to go and for some reason it was vitally important to me to finish it. ‘LET’S GO!’ my sister insisted, look up. I looked up and realised all we could do was get out.
That was the last time we saw the farm we loved. The place where Dad taught us how to shoot and take care of the land, we got dirty, had adventures and learned not to pick up the wriggly sticks or stick our arms down wombat holes.
In town it was madness. The air was thick and choking; there were old farmers black with soot with as many dogs as they had been able to grab in the back of utes. The bakery stayed open handing out water and egg and bacon rolls to shell-shocked farmers. We were hearing in real-time the spread of the fire and stories of last-minute escapes, but the ladies in the bakery kept going. The phone would ring and we’d watch as their eyes filled up, but in true country fashion, they never left their spot.
We had friends from out of town and five dogs with us, so we were quite a sight. The local publican scooped us up into her care, gave us drinks, fed the dogs and kept us safe that day tucked in a corner of the pub. Pubs are often the centre of town life and a central marshalling spot. Farmers would rush in wide-eyed calling for their mates. But there would be no answer, and we realised people hadn’t gotten out.
So started the next week, a week of community. Food and clothing, updates and honesty from our local cop who stepped magnificently into the role of the leader we so desperately needed. Everything was community-focused. Twice a day we had a town meeting, with no phones, internet or electricity it was our only way of getting information. At every meeting, a tiny elderly woman would lurch to her feet, turn around and fix the back of the hall with a beady stare and a pointed crooked finger and shout, ‘SHUT UP! YOU ARE ALL BEING RUDE!’ One of the five dogs I took to every meeting was a huge fan and would wildly egg her on, barking hysterically. Both took their role very seriously.
It has been 10 months since the fire and it has been a roller coaster. The big question for everyone is, do you rebuild? As a family we have struggled with that question, but now the house block is cleared, Blazeaid has replaced our fences and the grass it back. The land is scarred and the wildlife has disappeared, nothing could outrun the fire, but the land will recover and so will the district.