Sunday, March 22, 2009

In the aftermath of the bushfires

Today I had a chicken salad sandwich for lunch. It was the simplest sandwich imaginable - some chicken loaf and salad vegetables squashed between two slices of fresh white bread - but it was significant, because this sandwich came from a shop in Kinglake.

Kinglake and Marysville were two of the towns hardest hit by the horrific bushfires of Black Saturday, 7 February that swept across large parts of Victoria. Kinglake suffered widespread property losses and at least 45 people were killed by the inferno that raged through. Roads into the area were only re-opened two weeks ago and, since then, people have been urged to visit these towns to help support local businesses (but to also show respect for the locals who have suffered such a terrible tragedy).

We did not initially plan to visit Kinglake, as I felt uneasy about intruding into a town where the grief is still so raw. But Adam and his friend Michael undertook a gruelling bike ride from Newport to St Andrews and, when Michael's wife Angela and I arrived with the children for an early lunch, we decided it would be better to spend our money supporting Kinglake.

Images of burnt-out homes and charred forest were broadcast and published everywhere in the aftermath of Black Saturday but it is still far more confronting to witness the devastation in real life. St Andrews is less than 10km from Kinglake but the scenery was from another world. A narrow road twists around the hills, offering sweeping views over the nearby valleys. I've never travelled this road before and imagine that it would have offered heart-stoppingly beautiful views. Now, however, it looks like Armageddon, with the hills covered in rows of thin black trees that look like stubble protruding up from a giant head. The road signs are dazzlingly shiny and new and bright white fence posts steer motorists away from the unstable edges of the road. A couple of the old road signs, melted and jagged, stand testament to the intense heat.

Kinglake itself was surprisingly busy, with many motorcyclists and cyclists thronging in the main street. The bakery was extremely busy and we stopped at another cafe, which reopened today for the first time since the fires. The sandwiches were simple fare but we were glad to have them and the volunteer staff were pleased to have customers to serve. We sat outside to eat and pondered the unpredictability of bushfires: just a few metres across the street was the burnt-out petrol station, now a pile of twisted metal and grey rubble.

Rather than going back to St Andrews, we headed out of Kinglake, through Kinglake West and into Whittlesea. The devastation continued along this road. Solid homes have been reduced to small piles of ashes, rubble, blackened bricks and twisted corrugated iron. Amid the scorched earth and black trees are paddocks of green grass, which looks shockingly bright amidst the barrenness. Many of the trees still have their leaves, which are an almost autumnal shade of red-brown, until up close you can see that they are crackly-dry.

The scars of 7 February will take a long time to heal - if they ever do fully heal - but one of the best things to happen in the aftermath of the fires was the way the community rallied to help towns such as Kinglake and Marysville. I hope we will continue to help them as they rebuild.


Arwen from Hoglet K said...

It's good that the community is supporting these poor towns. They've done an amazing job to be serving sandwiches so soon.

Melinda said...

You're right Arwen. It is easy for everyone to forget about these towns once the media has moved onto the next event but that is when the hard work for these towns really begins.