I read somewhere that nearly half of all Australian's are somehow effected by the fires, heres my story.
This photo was taken at our evacuation centre, the evac centre was full, so we took shelter in a (as you can see) over packed carpark just after this photo was taken tornado like winds swept through as the pyrocumulonimbus storm started. We were lucky that the tornado that day was filled with ash and not fire.
Ok so it turns out, I'm not ready to tell the full details of my story in this arena. The number of times I have written it only to delete it, is huge. The problem that I think I'm having with it is, that its such a widespread trauma with a thousand different faces. I have survivors guilt, because there are many worse off especially our friends, we are in a group called the "the lucky ones" which means we had no direct fatalities and our house didn't burn down. I have grief, pain and fear because we lost a lot and our long planned for step into retirement, doesn't look like the well planned for retirement we expected, more like "shit we now need to start again" because the cushion is gone, we lost a lot.
I also didn't want to hide this part of the trauma. In the country especially in the small country towns like mine I've witnessed and experienced first hand this form of trauma hierarchy. Where we silently compare all our experiences. Greetings turned from "G'day" to "Do you have a house?" farewells turned from "see 'ya" to "stay safe" and condolences went from "I'm so sorry" to "stay a zombie". When you feel yourself breaking there is always someone worse off, but the problem is, in my town, the strongest people are still people who've gone through more than most can understand. I'm glad to see counsellors poor in and the push for specialised grief and trauma mental health care is happening. I feel so much of Australia's regional towns need to go through a collective break down, one big long cry to release the huge amount of swallowing terror and grief that you simply just can't express because the danger is still present. But there has been rainfall, and some fires are starting to go out. So maybe that will happen soon.
My little country paradise went from a place hardly anyone knew existed to one of the most reported on. My journey went through so many twists from sheer terror, to complacency, to the rage of realising that when we needed the government and all the services we generally take for granted (ambulances, police, hospitals) the most they just aren't there. All notification systems also went down, and I can't even begin to tell you the impact of that, no phones, no internet, no radio, no fuel and no way out, not just for a day for days.
We ended up fleeing our home with only what we could fit in our cars. Arriving to family covered in dust, traumatised and lost. Our days since are up and down, theres really good days where we rejoice in normalcy, theres days of extreme lows when we confront loss mixed in with zombie days of just keep moving, with a constant hyper-vigilance of our landscape and weather.
I want to share with you how I've changed since the fires instead of telling the details of what made me change.
I will always be prepared.
I grew up on a hill, literally surrounded by the Lane Cove National Park in a small community of only 4 streets, with only 1 road in and out. The hill we lived on caught alight almost every summer, so I've lived through bushfires, I've lived through evacuations. So before the fires I thought being prepared meant, knowing what valuables and documents to take, packing them, my animals and knowing which safer space to go to.
Now I know thats not being prepared. Being prepared now means being able to be completely self sufficient for at least 2 weeks. So basically, how am I going to live with all my animals on a beach with no access to medical, help, power or shelter, even during an ember attack. So now, my survival kit includes food, wool blankets (once I get money again I will buy fire blankets) torches, so much water, first aid kit (including eye drops, respirator masks, eye drops, so much ventolin), a month worth of pet food, plus documents and cash (becuase when you wake up in a disaster like we did everything is down so plastic cards are useless.)
Hot tip (quite literally) those nylon tents that we all camp with these days forget about them, unless you fancy be covered in melted plastic during a disaster.
I'm now a minimalist
When we packed our cars, we left decorative and sentimental items behind in favour of food and water. Even in our new home, we still have food and water stores rather than pictures on our walls. They simply just don't matter anymore. And expecting insurance or government assistance? Forget about that, have you seen the clauses? Your house may literally melt from the radiant heat, but if a flame doesn't touch it, "it wasn't really the bush fire". Not that anyone is insured enough anyway. I'm not anti insurance, I'm all about the best most inclusive policy, I've just lost a little faith now. And the government, have you read what they think is reasonable or the steps? It's a sham. So stuff just doesn't mean what it used to.
Staying and Defending is no longer an option.
In the past staying and defending seemed reasonable and I've been through it. Out the front with a hose and bucket, putting out spot fires whilst the fire fighters dealt with the blaze. It was reasonable. But you can't defend your house against a tornado, so thinking you can do anything to defend anything against tornados filled with fire? Madness, hoses melt, bricks melt, and theres no traditional fire front anymore, it's a fire circle, it doesn't jump trees it moves like a swirling tsunami. And fire trucks? Forget about it, theres not enough, the RFS are angels and have worked harder and gone through more than anyone can comprehend but there is simply not enough, and the surge of new volunteers is awesome, but the fire trucks the equipment, that all needs funding. So when the fires come again, we will be out of here, on the beach.
There is not a cell in my body that doesn't think what we just lived through is not impacted by climate change. Being pissed at the government for what really is criminal negligence and what really should be considered manslaughter and not just Scomo, Gladys in my books is right up there with him in culpability is one thing. Also wholeheartedly supporting every climate change protest (I'm sorry that some city folk find a day of disruption frustrating) but that is now necessary in my life too. But more importantly, I can no longer rely on the government to do anything. So our life is now a process of running towards living green.With our first step transitioning to plant based as that seems to be the single biggest thing I can do as an individual to help (not hating on meat eaters, we all have our own paths). But also little things like I'm now obsessed with watering the garden because for starters a green garden is better for ember attacks but we need as much green around us to help neutralise the carbon. Eventually when we have a house that we own there will be solar panels, rain water tanks and anything else we can ad (seeing as collecting decorations or sentimental items is no longer a thing our money will go to this).
I guess the whole thing with going through a disaster is that the process of rebuilding doesn't mean that your world goes back to how it was before. That world no longer exists to me, it's about building towards a new normal with new priorities based on new realisations about how our world operates when the worst comes (spoiler alert, it literally doesn't). We hold onto the fact that we survived and we're safe now. We're not homeless, we're not living in a caravan on a campsite like so many of our friends are. We have some tough challenges a head and decisions to make about what to do next. But we have a next so thats a good thing.