Friday, January 18, 2013

10 years on

10 years ago today Mum and I went to the movies to see the German film "Mostly Martha" (later remade by Hollywood as No Reservations).  It was great.  I went to work for a bit that day then went and had a massage.  The night before I'd been at my best friend's house where she had made a fish curry followed by homemade apricot icecream.  It was really hot that night and as I left the house kangaroos were sitting on the street eating people's lawns so that I had to drive around them to get out.

These are pretty detailed memories for a random weekend 10 years ago, however the thing is it wasn't just some random weekend - 10 years ago the sky turned black then orange then red as a firestorm raced into Canberra killing 4 people, injuring many more and burning down 500 homes.  In some ways it feels as though it was a lifetime ago, in other ways I can't believe 10 years have passed.

We were lucky, while the fire came within meters of our property we didn't lose anything.  Friends and neighbours helped us fight the flames and we only got the grass fire, not the pine forest fueled firestorm. Friends of ours were not so lucky, there is nothing you can do to fight a giant fireball that lands on your house setting the whole thing ablaze in seconds.

For a long time after the fire just thinking about it made me very emotional.  I think we all had  post-traumatic shock to some extent.  These days I can think about it pretty objectively, (although listening to a montage on the radio that included the emergency message from the day this morning had me in tears) but the one moment that will always move me when I remember it is not because it was sad, it is because it made me really, truly realise what was important.

Before and during the fire we were busy, crazy busy trying to prepare then fight the fire (and me having asthma attacks and coughing fits - I do not mix well with smoke).  But after it had passed we sat around in the family room.  There were my parents, my sister, her then boyfriend (now husband), me and our dogs.  Everyone was exhausted, that post adrenaline rush lethargy.  It was fairly dark, with no electricity and the air heavy with smoke.  The radio was on and the local ABC was reporting suburb after suburb burning.  We knew that houses had been lost and we expected that people had been killed.  Occasionally the phone would ring, friends and relatives checking we were ok, offering their houses where there was still power and therefore hot showers - not that we could get there most roads were cut.  We could barely move for the exhaustion.  I think I was sitting on the stairs as I looked around that room, filled with the people I loved, in the house that had been saved and felt like the luckiest person alive.

Over the next weeks, months and years I've watched as the city rebuilt.  People I know have rebuilt their lives, going from having literally only the clothes on their backs to a full complement of 'stuff'.  The thing it has taught me is that if you have your friends and family, you can start over.  You can rebuild.  You can come out of disaster stronger and happier than before.

Today on the 10th anniversary of the Canberra bushfires, fires are burning around the country.  Houses have been lost this fire season, a lot of them.  I hope the people left behind are supported the way the Canberra community supported our friends and family.

It is a sombre day today, one when I'm sure many tears will be shed.  I however will be celebrating the people who make my life so wonderful by having my girlfriends around for drinks and tacos.  These are the people who I know with 100% certainty will be there to help me pick up the pieces if I am ever unfortunate enough to lose everything.  I can't imagine a better way to spend this evening, celebrating friendship with fun and laughter and once again feeling like the luckiest person alive.


  1. What a beautiful post.

    A reminder to me to cherish my loved ones even more than usual today.


  2. I think I've mentioned before that my aunt and her family were one of the people who lost their house in this fire, and that one of the people who died was the mother of a boy in my year at my school. Thank you for this post. xo

  3. This is a beautiful post Lisa, particularly as (as you note) more fires burn this summer and this week. Fire is such a terrifying force, but having communities rally together creates a remarkable force too.

  4. You're right, goodness you remember the tiny details of these days. I originally thought you were posting on Mostly Martha, as I've only recently seen that movie (can you believe it?!) Beautiful post.
    Heidi xo