A new year often brings with it a sense of hope. For my family and hundreds like us that sense of hope had a different meaning. In the days that followed January 1, 2015 a bushfire wiped out thousands of hectares of the Adelaide Hills. Our property lay in it's path....this is my story and the catalyst to this wonderful journey at One Fat Emu......
Dedicated to Helen, Nadia, the many friends and neighbors that shared this experience, you are the reason why we call the Adelaide Hills home.
And.... to our neighbors James, Wes, Phil and the amazing volunteers who risked their own lives fighting the Sampson Flat Bushfire of 2015, if it wasn’t for your valiant efforts, treasured animals, memories and our special home would have been lost. We are forever indebted.
Message Carrie – ‘Leave now if the path is safe, or find a safe place to shelter.’
The text jars me to the core, urging me to action, making the threat of the approaching bushfire somehow now more real. I’ve been watching the CFS website feed all day and posts from school mums in the nearby valley discuss with increasing urgency the imminent threat. Some have already packed and fled. Mr. Man adopts a hard-line, suggesting the bushfire is too far away to threaten our home. At nightfall, our four precious babes lie sleeping draped in white cotton sheets, the picture of calm, sweet, innocence. They know nothing of the danger that hovers in the neighbouring valley. Closing the flyscreen door we don boots and head beyond the house yard to the paddocks where our flock of sheep, all recognised by name, and our curious emu still graze despite the enveloping smoke and darkness. In the distance a haze of orange engulfs the sky, flames are swept under their own weather conditions painting an ominous and very real vision. The furiousity and size of the fire is confronting but even more so when we return to the house and sight the enormous red glow that nightfall has made so apparent. It’s now too close for comfort. Despite feeling unhinged by the enormity of the fire, Mr. Man suggests we bunker down and while he snores, I lie staring at the orange shadows that dance on the bedroom ceiling. Sleep is difficult, regularly broken by the call of the now distinctive community radio announcements that continue to urge resident in nearby towns to evacuate. Our little town is not mentioned by name but it now seems only a matter of course. I pace, tiger like, in the kitchen, trolling the CFS website and Facebook page for more specific information about the location and pace of the fire. By dawn, this monster continues to rage. I urge Mr Man up, to action and so it begins.
Boxes sit in readiness, just as they have done for fifteen years, collecting dust, filled with special memories that can never be replaced. I drag them in despair toward the waiting car. I feel a soft little hand reaching toward mine, pushing a knitted teddy toward a collection of other special treasures. His deep brown eyes look longingly toward mine, I sense his trepidation and hold him close.
I fleetingly wonder how our lives would change if the fire raced up the paddock to the house, our animals, our dreams, our life of 15 years. What really would be different? Would we be able to pare back our busy, complicated lives? In a crazy, emotion filled moment I will those flames to my door, to the piles of paper, the bills, the boringness of my day-to-day life, the accumulated stuff that has become our lives. I instantly want to call this faceless Carrie, tell her the ridiculous truth. Tell her that even a bushfire is not enough to call me to action. “Carrie,” I want to scream. ”I’m stuck on nothingness. Nothingness had become my life, who am I, what am I, where am I going?” The fire is like a raw nerve, pulling at my inner core.
Now, as the fire marches across the landscape toward us I know the faceless Carrie isn’t going to stand on the doorstep anytime soon and shake me to my senses. She isn’t going to tell me to snap out of it or guide me through the maze of life. She isn’t going to check that the car is loaded with our few precious possessions, our four amazing little people and our special old pooch, that last box of photos or trinket from my grandmother. Carrie isn’t going to be there to say goodbye to our small flock of sheep. She isn’t going to hold my hand as I close the gate behind our emu, hand-fed and loved. Carrie won’t be there to console me through stifled tears. She won’t be there to sweep the veranda, fill the gutters with water or hold my boys hand as he asks if everything will be alright. Carrie had her job to do and I recognised I had mine.
We work as tacticians, all performing tasks in readiness for the evil beast. Heavy smoke clings to our every pore, stinging the back of our throats. The cars idle in the driveway, a strange sum of collected memories; our life in a shoebox, packed in readiness. The animals fed, the troughs are full. I close the gate and walking through our beautiful garden shed a tear wondering if this will be the last time I’ll see our animals alive. We do not have the luxury of time for contemplation; the threat of fire is imminent. Taking one last look, we embrace and say goodbye to our property.
Hours later, we stand in an urban setting, surrounded by neighbours, evacuated horses, volunteers and a diverse collection of individuals. We wait for news from the fire front, constantly checking the CFS website and speaking to others for news, for hope that all is well. The news comes so swiftly that I’m brought to my knees. I weep as they tell me it’s all gone……that the fire raced up our road and beyond, into the paddocks, over the grave of our old mutt, though the garden we cherished, razing the house where we had reared our four bundles of joy. As I hold the hand of my little boy, answers fail me. My eldest girl is inconsolable. She is old enough to understand what this means. I compose myself and lie to her brother, attempting to assure him that everything will be ok but the tears stain his cheeks as he too mourns the loss. For him it’s more about things, his treasured moneybox, left behind in our haste to leave and now for me, it’s about shared memories and love; planting those first trees, my bursting pregnant girth, new lambs, our wonderful emu, first baby steps, the tree swing and my silly old childhood teddy burnt to a shred. Raw, broken, lost.
I wonder about Carrie for the days and weeks that follow. I want her by my side as we drive through the roadblocks, watching fire trickle down the nearby hills. I want her there as we drive by burning fences and charred ground. I want to squeeze her tight, to say thank you as we drive up our street……thank you for being there, for urging me to go, for keeping us safe. But then, as we enter our property and take in this vast beautiful landscape, I want her there to celebrate. We stand in disbelief; somehow our house stands untouched by fire. I want Carrie there to share the joy. As I herd the sheep quietly back into the paddock and fed them sweet lucerne, I want her there. I want her to hold my hand as we explore the fence-line and see how lucky we really were. I want her there, to share the melted ice-cream from the defrosting freezer and delight as the softened cream slides down my smoke stained throat. I want her there to help me start the generator, to listen to squeals as the children escape the summer heat in the damn. I want her there as I cobble together rationed meals from the pantry, to express my fears about road closures and the continued threat of fire. I want her there as I listen to the heart-breaking loss of stock and wildlife.
And in the days and weeks that pass, when everything returns to normal, I want her there to savour how wonderful life really is, the amazing community spirit and genouristy of humankind. I want the faceless Carrie to come back into my life. I want to whoop with her as Ernie Emu strides up the driveway two weeks later. I want Carrie there, to sit, share a coffee and chat about that one crazy week, when time froze. A week, when the sheep ran free, the emu escaped and the paddocks turned black. A week, when each minute clung to the next, a week without electricity, without a flushing toilet, rationed food and water, a week when the bills could wait, when everything could wait, just pure, basic survival. A week, when life became somehow richer, uncomplicated and simple.
And now as the paddocks turn green and new leaves cover the charred trees, I want Carrie to stand with me and tell me it’s going to be ok. I want her to sit with me as I weep, to tell me that I can find my place, my thing. I want Carrie to tell me that this sense of nothingness is everything, that it’s time to just be me. I want Carrie to hold my hand as I open the door to my hopes and dreams, to laugh with me as I embrace my fears, to celebrate my successes and mourn my losses. I know she’s by my side, I can feel her when I pick up the phone. In the night, I can here her gentle whisper. She takes my hand and guides me. She brings me images and words. She says it will be ok. She walks with me to the post-box; she guides me through the maze of life and awakens my dreams. She knows its time for me to find my something; she says it’s ok. I pull the vine from the apple tree and find calm as I twist its nobbled branch. I find magic in my new craft.
Message to Carrie – ‘Thank you.’
I never thought I would love an animal as much as I loved Monty. It's been over two years since I buried him under the dead gum. It was a roaring hot day and beads of sweat poured off my dad's face as he battled to dig a hole deep enough to bury him in the rock-hard ground. I waivered between cries and laughter as the kids sang "how much is that doggy in the window." The pain of losing my beautiful dog was palpable and while it's easier with each passing day, two years on and I still miss him dearly.
Having Monty in our lives brought with it our fair share of challenges. He was intense, demanding and at the heart of all that was the desire to work. From dawn til dusk he wanted to run. He was all about rough, running, digging and lots of barking. He barked at everything that moved. And at the end of the day, he'd be the first to curl up in front of the fire or nudge his nose between our legs for some attention. He was raw, strong and honest. Miss you Monts.