In My Kitchen, February, 2019. Ten Years Ago.

There’s a lot on my mind this week as we approach the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday, the monstrous bushfire of February 7, 2009, that redefined my life and that of more than 2000 other Victorians. I’ve started to look through my old photos today, the first day of February, to renew my acquaintance with my old house and kitchen from 10 years ago. I’m still coming to terms with why things changed so much. In the end, it’s not really about the possessions, the things. Something else happened on that day, an indefinable sense of loss. Was it the house itself or the setting, the way it incorporated the rising moon through the kitchen window?

Front door near kitchen and hand built pizza oven, 2008

We began work on the building of our old house in January 1980, and moved in around August that year, just before my youngest son, Jack, was born. No electricity or running water back then but we didn’t care. The initial house, constructed in mudbrick, consisted of one huge central room with a soaring ceiling, a hand crafted fireplace, old Victorian four panelled doors, leadlight windows, and a staircase leading to our mezzanine bedroom which was neatly tucked into the ceiling at one end. It was, in many ways, an impractical design, hard to heat in winter and rather hot upstairs in summer but we loved it. We were idealistic, young and ready to embrace our new life. The house came to symbolise everything we were choosing ( and rejecting) at the time. This was not a suburban house: its design and quirkiness grew out of the mudbrick movement that was prevalent in the Shire of Eltham, a romantic building style that began with Montsalvat and was developed further by Alistair Knox. This local style was adapted throughout the 70s by other mud brick builders. The house reflected our new life in the bush which centred around the ‘back to the earth’ ideology which incorporated self-sufficiency in food production, small-scale farming, wood gathering for heating, and a building culture based on a preference for natural and recycled materials, mud, straw, large old bridge timbers, Victorian doors and windows, second-hand red bricks, and any other ‘found’ materials that could be recycled. The more modern notions of ‘tree change’ ‘sustainability’ and ‘repurposing’ had not yet enjoyed linguistic currency. The materials used made each house in the area quite unique. Many of these houses were destroyed on Black Saturday and current building regulations now make them too expensive to replicate.

Hopes and Dreams. A new vineyard planting of Albarino grapes struggled with the drought of 2008.

As the children grew, so did the house. The first addition was a small two roomed mud brick cottage out the back of the house. Each weekend friends arrived to help on the construction: they soon mastered mudbrick wall building and rendering along the way. I pumped out the pizzas and other goodies from the kitchen in the main house. Then in 2004, we added a new modern kitchen and dining room to the main house, an expensive project that took more than a year to complete. That huge farmhouse style room became the focus of my life as a cook and a grandmother for the following four years. It was the place to bath a baby, celebrate a birthday, enjoy a wine, stroll out to the BBQ and terrace, make a mess, play guitars or listen to music. It was a kitchen dedicated to my family. I’ve never really found that life again: the disruption after the fire was too great. Of course I see the family in my current home, but that old ‘hearth and home’ feeling has been lost. The moon rises in the wrong place. I know my children feel this too though they say little.

Most of the internal shots below were taken in my old kitchen. It’s a media file so you can scroll through these by clicking on the first pic in the collage.

These few photos of my old kitchen and pre-fire life have been acquired thanks to friends over the last ten years. Of course our PCs died in the fire on that day, and so did the history of our life in that house, but there were a few pics on an old laptop, and others have been sent to us. 

Today’s post is the beginning of a little series I have been working on to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday. Words and stories have been swimming around in my brain at night for months, keeping me awake. I hope these see the light of day and finally get transferred to the digital page. I know more thanks must be given, more pictures aired, some myths dispelled, and some anger vented too. And after this year, I might let it all go.

Funky old house.

Thanks Sherry at Sherry’s Pickings for hosting the monthly In My Kitchen series. I know there’s not much kitchen stuff going on in this post, but at least I’ve made a start on my memorialisation and for this I thank you.

The header photo shows apples baked by bushfire. See also my In My Kitchen post on this topic from 6 years ago.

 

 

 

 

31 thoughts on “In My Kitchen, February, 2019. Ten Years Ago.”

  1. Have been scrolling up and down for ten minutes, just being with you as much as I can in my imaginings and remembering all the news we then received hour by hour, and being with you now. I’m sorry the first thing which I feel at the moment is the current dry heat, both for you and me a nine-hour drive away, the more than little similarity of then and again . . . and I feel a prayer rise in my heart that this year, oh please Higher Powers, there is no repeat of the circumstances . . . I’m glad you have some of the photos . . . am I glad you remember the dream: altho’ I don’t know whether that is totally a good thing. I guess all I can sincerely say is that you had something then, which many people never do . . . and ask you to remember that saying ‘. . . you can’t go back, it isn’t there’ . . . but go back to remember and tell us and be as angry at happenstance as you can . . . and, just perchance, after ten years it will go away and just some lovely memories will on occasion come make you smile . . . all my love . . .

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    1. There are some lovely memories, and new ones are always being made. Yes, we can’t go back. Like you, I am also praying to the Higher Powers that they might spare us all again this year. The dry is so disturbing. Only scored 11 mms in January- and conditions in the bush are starting to look like 2009. We self evacuated last week. I’m sure there will be more leavings this month. I’m thinking of you up there Eha, knowing that you are also suffering the same heat, the same dry and, yes, the fear….It’s the price we pay for living with such beauty.

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      1. And there is always the opposite side: Townsville has just been declared a disaster zone in a once in a 100 year flood . . . . and they have to release dam water and more will suffer . . . and how many people are hurting up there . . . .

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        1. So true. And each year that flooding up north hits harder. You remember Peter? My friend who makes those wonderful outrageous comments sometimes when his internet is working properly? He lives near Innisfailand gives me daily reports of the rain, floods, and cyclones. he reported yesterday that they had 1.5 METRES of rain last week. OMG I find that kind of rain so hard to imagine. If only we could share it all out a bit…. poor Townesville. The season is still young, for fire and flood.

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  2. I can’t begin to imagine how empty you must feel after losing your beloved family home and possessions. I doubt I could move on. I still remember shedding tears over your post of 6 yrs ago, your courage goes way beyond anything I have within although I’m sure the memories of that horrific day are deep down, still raw. For me, at a distance, the smell of burning eucalypt still sets off alarm bells. Warm hugs

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    1. Yes, that smell. I thought I got a whiff of it this morning. It is weird, but writing these posts seems to help me- I still haven’t shed a tear though. I bottled a lot of stuff up back then and so a bit more writing is in order. Thanks for your kind words Sandra.

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      1. Yes smell is so powerful, transports you to somewhere immediately. I actually sniffed the washing today expecting the smell of ash we had from Black Saturday to be present.

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        1. The smell and raining ash from the Ash Wednesday fires is still a most vivid smell too. It rain hot red coal from the Cockatoo fires of February 16, 1983. One of our local CFA trucks from Panton Hill with nine men on board, perished in that fire. One was just a lad. It prepared us and after that fear, the smell, the darkness, I decided I would not hang around to fight another big one…. we leave often.

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  3. Wow! What a vast range of memories and am so grateful that I experienced the good ones. Does time really heal all wounds? Mmmmm.
    But the resilience you have is unbeatable.

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  4. I remember the sick feeling I had in 2009, before I knew anyone who had suffered the losses the fire wrought. I guess for most of us it is beyond imagining what that does, how it changes a person. I hadn’t realised your house was mud brick. Ours is rammed earth, and represents similar virtues to us, and it was built in the 80’s, but not by us. We bought it 12 years later, unfinished and run down, and have methodically finished and renovated it and plan to be here for the duration. The fires on the Ranges last weekend quickened my heartbeat, however. We are only one row of houses from bushland, and it is bone dry here, and huge winds day after day this summer. It must be a living reminder every time you have to self evacuate. God. My very dearest wishes that all goes well for you all in the future. xx

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    1. The weather is extraordinary this year, and very similar to that of 2009. Leave early, leave often is my motto. So much for your wet season Ardys- now that the desert hills are burning , it makes you wonder just how much worse it can get. I hope you remain safe. Life in a muddy
      /rammed earth suits me and my nature. These houses breath nicely and are wonderful to be in. I bought another muddy in November 2009, our new home, which was built by a friend of mine on weekends, a wonderful funny man who taught at the same school as me along the way. Although built in the 90s, and not quite so quirky, it is probably more functional than my lovely old house. But there’s something indefinable in my life… just can’t put a finger on it.

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  5. That awful feeling when you have absolutely no control tears into your soul. I can imagine that wherever you set up camp would be a happy, warm, loving and welcoming place for all. I cannot possibly understand the gut wrenching sense of loss, but hats off to you for what you have created in your current home. The pics always show shining eyes full of laughter and happiness and reinforce the reason why families are important. XX

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    1. Thanks Maree. It has been a battle at times. I sometimes think that the massive loss around here made any private loss much worse. With 65 nearby houses destroyed in St Andrews, 12 deaths, and heaps more up the hill in Kinglake, it made the first few years like a war zone. It looked like an atom bomb had hit,and the township was divided into two camps- those who lost everything and those who ‘ just got a big fright’. The trees didn’t reappear for years after, the creeks kept flooding in 2009/10/11 because there was no vegetation to hold the water back, the bureaucrats kept spending money on nonsense, on and on it went- maybe the subject of one of my next posts. Family makes for happiness, and I can see that in your lovely posts with the little ones wolfing down your breads, your annual gingerbread house smashing, and renovations…..

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  6. I find your account very moving. Here our problem are earth tremors and landslides. Italy is so young geologically that with climate change it is crumbling apart even more. We’ve been through one of the hottest summers on record and are now plunged into ‘snow bombs’. Evidently we are told the warmer the climate gets the colder it’ll get too. I admire 16 year old Greta from Sweden who speaks for her youth at the current Davos conference. She even refuses to use airflights but travels everywhere by land transport. I clearly admire you too for having the courage to pick up the few pieces left and rebuilding your life.

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  7. Your loss is terrible, as is the lasting pain you describe. I feel very sad to hear about what you have gone through, and how it continues, and wish you success in working through it for a better feeling.

    sincere empathy from … mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  8. What a beautiful family home it was….and what an absolute tragedy to lose it. With your abundance of creative skills, it seems you have rebuilt a home..a garden…and a life. I am full of admiration and share your sorrow.

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  9. This post made me emotional reading it. I know people say home isn’t a house, its the people in it, but things make up a house too. Memories are tied to smells and senses, but looking at items from the past triggers those too. I have family in Townsville and I’ve been thinking about them, but also about what I would run with if the situation happened here. I have so many things I’d want to save… I know they’re things but they’re *my* things. You are so resilient. Thank you for sharing with us – and taking the time to put into words your experience.

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  10. i didn’t realise you had been thru the fires francesca. oh my how devastating. i grew up in the dandenongs and bushfires were always such a huge part of our summers – fire bans, warnings etc. i have never forgotten how terrifying it could all be. thinking of you, and sending good thoughts. i hope your memories become/remain good ones. cheers sherry

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  11. Oh my goodness. I wasn’t aware of this part of your life. How devastating. I know possessions are just that, but so many are meaningful, and you have them for a reason. Just the loss of a computer seems life-changing. So sorry. Your attitude seems positive, and being bitter serves no purpose, but a fire is just ….

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  12. Sometimes the edges blur and we become part of a place and it us… it imprints on us and us it, and its loss is tangible. Duration in years and life unfolding including an incredible amount of input into that place now absent makes the sense of disconnect understandable. But when the loss is sudden, unimaginable, violent and final… then it is beyond understanding.
    In my mind I still walk the rooms of my grandparents farmhouse where I spent my earliest years. It has long been owned by other people but when I go back, even driving the road out there evokes an innate feeling of belonging over 4 decades later. Do your kids feel similarly, I wonder. We or our family don’t even have to own the place… I sometimes feel my self back in a rented inner city apartment that rescued me from a failing marriage and nurtured me when I needed it badly. I mourned both places long & deep when we had to move on, and felt like part of me stayed behind. But other places we simply inhabit for a time, lock the door, leave and don’t look back. It’s a curious, indefinable thing when it is present that connects us on a deeper level to a place and its time.

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    1. Dale, your writing on this is so profound. You really capture that feeling of how a place can touch your very being and soul. And others not. Some homes are shrines to our dreams, and sadness too- as you so aptly capture. xxx

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      1. Maybe because I think about it way too much… I wonder, and worry a little, about my connection to this house that I am custodian of for a time. It has such a presence and sometimes I feel it meld with mine. I buy it gifts, things I would never have bought for myself before my time here, and I take flowers from the garden to the grave of the lady whose home it was from when it was built in the 1930’s to 1980 when she died age 74 in the same bedroom I sleep in, as I hope to one day so I will never have to find out if the connection goes as deep as I believe it does.

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        1. i think this is the start of a beautiful book on your connection to place. I am very touched. I also like to give my house little gifts of herbs and flowers , simple posies. Or light incense on special days, and give thanks.

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