Black Saturday Anniversary. Thoughts and Thank yous.

Today, nine years ago, my life changed significantly. I’m sure many people have suffered a life changing tragedy at some point too. These events come our way to remind us that life is precious, to test our resilience or perhaps to jolt us out of materialistic complacency. 

The anniversary of Black Saturday, the Victorian Bushfire of February 7th 2009, is one I need to honour, privately in my local town but more publicly through my rambling posts. I have written about it previously. And now I choose the day to reflect on my post- bushfire life and make myself look at a few more photos from that time, and I can honestly say that these memories are no longer painful.

Painted by fire

After that disaster, the mantra in Victoria sounded loudly- ‘We will rebuild’. It was a battle cry of sorts, encouraging communities to re-group and re-establish as well as rebuild their homes. We didn’t, although we did stay in our community. We decided that rebuilding on our land would be too slow, costly and painful and so, almost on a whim, we bought a friend’s house in November 2009. It helped us re-settle more quickly. In the early days, I enjoyed living in a place that was not quite home: for years it enabled me to divorce myself from possession,  attachment and loss. Things would never be quite the same: the moon rose in a different spot, and the battle with an invasive grass species made gardening a nightmare, the climate was different, the bedroom faced the wrong way. I could come and go and never felt home sick. There was a sense of freedom in that.

Once a wet gully, the bare earth burnt for a week.

Last November, after we returned from a 5 month overseas trip, I finally sensed a deep longing for home, this home. It had taken eight years of re-settlement to develop this love. And today, as I walk around the vegetable garden and orchard and see how much work we’ve done, I realise that we’ve achieved our goal of establishing a small permaculture garden. Years of making compost and creating a micro-climate has paid off. Celery, rocket, bok choy and radicchio self sow in cracks and corners, fennel heads wave in the breeze. Dill, coriander and borage pop up unbidden, while flat leafed parsley, the seed that goes to hell and back before germinating, has finally found home here too. Wild cucumbers ramble along pathways, climbing any structure they can find. Pumpkins, chillies and yet more wild tomatoes arrive after every rain. It has taken these years for the apples, plums, figs and pears to fruit abundantly. An old hazelnut and a quince tree battle for light in one corner while the chooks graze like jungle fowl underneath, tossing about leaf litter or hiding on hot days in dense loganberry patches.

The house itself now seems to have developed an enveloping calm since the intsallation of double glazed windows and better heating. The temperature tends to be fairly even and the front ornamental garden breaks the wind and softens the outlook. There are deep shady patches outside for summer or sun catching windows for winter. There is a sense of peace and calm.

Saving the chimney for the future required an engineer’s report. An old hand made convict brick from my grandparents house at Port Albert features in the cornerstone of the hearth. Chimney by Tony Berry, local alternative builder.
The cottage chimney from the front. This little additional building, illegally built, was loved by the children. When they moved out of home, they first moved here, a stone’s throw away from the main house. Also used for music sessions.

I’ve now found my home, and attachment. It’s been a long journey and perhaps it’s time for a simpler life. I need to let go of the things we’ve accumulated which were so important to us at first. And perhaps I need to let go of this home as well.

Old man gum, favourite tree, did not survive this treatment.

Thank you Tess Baldessin, Helen Hewitt and Chris Warner and Bernie Mace for housing us throughout that year of dislocation. You helped us find our feet within our own community, simply by offering us a place to stay. We feel blessed. If only it could be this way for all those in the world who experience dispossession and dislocation through war and natural disaster.

 

53 thoughts on “Black Saturday Anniversary. Thoughts and Thank yous.”

  1. What a story…I’m interested that you wrote words about your new home, but used pictures of your devastated old one – the contrast makes your post all the more poignant. It’s lovely that you have found peace where you are now, but what a thing to live through. x

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  2. This is a very moving story. I am happy for you & your family have come smiling through. There are so many suffering loss of homes everywhere around the world today. As you do, I hope they can find safe refuge & homes again at last.

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  3. Fire and water – easily destroys everything. I am happy for you and your family, that you lived through it and have found a new life. A moving post, almost heartbreaking pictures when I read. Sending you a big heart for Valentine’s Day.

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  4. A very moving post, Francesca. I’m so glad for you. I have thought often of your experience and hoped you would be able to see it as salutary in some way, some day. The description of your current home oozes love and contentment. Hugs to you.

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  5. Amid all the obvious devastation reflected in your images is a sculptural and artistic beauty. I see snippets of various colours in deserts, autumns, sandlands and instillations. Your resilience and power to create, recreate, nurture, protect and regroup is a force that comes from the soul and nigh on a decade later it tells us that life, warts and all, is a work in progress. Thanks for your inspiring refelections Francesca.

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    1. Yes, warts and all. The colours and burnt landscape I can now look at in the way you do, but it has taken quite a while. At the time, indeed during the first week, many an artist found their way into the burnt bush to record this ‘beauty’- some did this with respect, others charged in without any sensitivity at all. There were books written, often unedited and with glaring omissions and errors. These things made it more difficult to let go in some ways Peter. Now I can. It has taken time and it has taken its toll, as do all difficult things in life.
      Looking forward to your lush forest.

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  6. So it’s now 4 years since I began following your blog. I remember sitting in my car silently weeping as I read your 2014 post and I was prepared for a smiler reaction this morning, instead you contemplate your achievements and express contentment. Your strength and resilience shine through. Big hugs….

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    1. Thankyou Sandra. I think that’s true now, I am content enough, and no longer feel any pain. It’s an eye opener for me too, because when I write, some invisible and inner being takes over and I’m never really sure what will be said until I finish.

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  7. An Australian summer story told with shivering honesty and reality. A piece of frightening history so many of us remember in detail: like when JFK died or we awoke to the 9/11 tragedy. Except it happened in our backyard and affected those we knew . . . Three years ago I lived with fires surrounding us as close as one km for over three weeks . . . now have become an ‘expert’ in the amount of fuel on the ground and the temp/wind speed ratio: every summer houses a degree of fear . . . as for your downsizing: it will happen when you are ready, in the way you decide and will not be forced upon you . . . may your changes be enjoyable and satisfying . . .

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    1. Australian summers are such a mixed blessing. I love summer at the beginning but by the time February arrives, we live in fear. Good to hear that you are dealing with the leaf litter and monitoring wind speed- so important. We have only self evacuated once this year , touch wood.

      The downsizing debate will swirl around me and Mr T for some time yet. We both have to be ready to lose our horizon.

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    1. Thanks Francis. Our dislocation was shared by at least 68 others in our small village and more than 2000 across the State, with 169 deaths. It became much bigger than ourselves and our district looked like a war zone, with helicopters, huge trucks and army personal scouting the bush for weeks afterwards, looking for bones or the missing. Being part of a national disaster produces an incredible level of adrenaline and trauma, It was more than the loss of a house and possession. But like me, the bush and the environment have recovered though I can still see the scars on the horizon and some of my favourite trees have gone.

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  8. Powerful, Francesca. Those of us who haven’t had to deal with dislocation can only imagine the pain. As you refer to, there are so many at the moment having to deal with this pain. It is the least we can do to make them feel welcome and try to make the relocation a little less traumatic. As you mentioned, in times like this a helping hand is well appreciated.

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    1. I know I wouldn’t have come through all that without the amazing help from other. There were so many. I can see their faces vividly as if family members. A helping hand is all that’s needed.

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  9. This was both a very somber but very beautiful post, Francesca. Almost spiritual. You have a way of writing that makes everything cozy. That is how I feel when I read your posts. I hope you have found your cozy.

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    1. Lois, you are so nice!!! Cozy- now I never thought about that word much before, but I’m very pleased that some of my posts sound cozy. When I write, I don’t really think about what I will say- words just comes from deep inside, and if they come from a cozy place, that’s good.

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  10. The human spirit never ceases to amaze me. The ability to survive, grow and grieve, sometimes all at the same time is sheer wonder. I know many are sadly not able to yet be in a comfortable place, I wish them well and am really pleased you seem to have found yours. Bloody awful for all.

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    1. Last night we shared far too many drinks with some close friends who had a similar experience. All that was said was how vivid and close those memories are, knowing that we shared the same technicolour nightmare but that it is no longer painful at all. It must be hard for others who have not yet healed.

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  11. I can’t imagine what you experience when you look at these pictures, compared to how they seem to us, so remote from the meaning of this landscape. Nature can have a very healing influence (your descriptions of home as orchards and familiar, established plants, and how far you’ve come in the garden’s analogy of feeling ‘settled’). Thank you for sharing. It’s a rare emotional insight.

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  12. Mixed emotions here. Sobering after encountering you in the blog then real world to put a persona to the aftermath of such devastation, as opposed to my previously safely removed exposure courtesy of news media and the book Kinglake-350. I’m happy you have been able develop attachment to your lovely home, bittersweet that you are considering exploring shedding some of it. But a natural process, and worth celebrating that you have come so far.

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    1. Acquiring then shedding, a natural cycle I am sure. Mr T is still coming to terms with the shedding, though I watch him battle with fences and mowing while our children notice that these hard, physical things keep him looking young and fit. An ongoing dilemma.

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  13. Gosh Francesca how terrible it all must have been. Thankfully you can now look back with no pain but I am sure the journey to get where you are now was not an easy one. Thank you for sharing xx

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    1. It wasn’t easy, but the journey was interesting and I am happy to be where I am now. Next year, on the 10th anniversary, I’ll look back for a final time and let it all go. Thanks for your comment Moya.

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