The fire this time

By Gary Mallin

Over the Great Divide in the north-east of Victoria and tucked into the conjunction of the Maroondah and Goulburn Valley highways is Alexandra. But the locals never call it Alexandra, neither do those nearby at Acheron, Taggerty, Yea, Molesworth, Cathkin, Yarck, Eildon or as far south as Marysville, Buxton, St Fillans, Narbethong and Healesville.

They call it Alex, a familiar, crisp and cosy short-form for the district centre that has been pivotal for the thousands devastated by the bushfires in the past week.

Alex has a hospital and ambulance service, shops, banks, farms, rural businesses, stock agents, and is headquarters for the Murrundindi Shire. What belongs to Alex, belongs to the district. And what belongs to the district belongs to Alex.

The community spirit, the care for their neighbour, particularly now, is something to behold in these areas. The people don’t wait, they don’t have to be asked, they don’t have to be told, they simply roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. This makes the locals a fascinating breed: they’re as tough and crusty as old cow pats because they have to be living on the land, but they’re as gentle as the lambs and calves they breed in crisis times such as this.

They’re competitive on the sports fields, they have a combative and natural distrust of city clickers, but they will still make you welcome to their place and offer you a cup of tea or beer or give you a g’day and toothy grin.

Is this the true Australian spirit? Maybe. Is this the true human spirit? Possibly. Would you react similarly in this or any other circumstance? Imagine if there were no crises; would you still give of this spirit?

Most of us have been to historic Marysville, taken of its hospitality, stayed in its pensions, eaten in its restaurants, been seen in its coffee shops, or ogled at Steavenson Falls and other tourist attractions.

Now it is a ghost town, its population of 500 evacuated, missing or dead. Estimates are that 100 people have died in and around Marysville.

Thank goodness my friend Susan, one of the warmest, kindest people I have met, is not among the dead. She moved for good from Melbourne to Marysville only on December 29. She had no warning of the fires and only just made it to the open spaces of Gallipoli Park and its attendant lake before the fires wiped the rest of Marysville off the map.

She says she moved there because she adores the community spirit, but is back in Melbourne, taking stock, for a while. She wants to go back to Marysville and will as soon as she can. Her little house backed on to the state forest near Steavenson Falls and was only walking distance of the village centre. Now, it and much of Marysville is a pancake of ashes.

But from the ashes, rises the phoenix.

I might be putting words in her mouth, but Susan’s love for the community and her fellow man will drive her to rebuild in Marysville. I suspect many others will have a similar attitude. It is this attitude, this positive force, that has come to the fore in the mayhem.

I have no time for those of the opposite, who bellyache because a few ants made it into the pantry or who complain that it was too hot because the air-conditioning broke. Get a life — look, observe and learn from Susan.

It is the Alexes and Susans of this world who have earned my utmost respect. I hope they earn yours.


8 thoughts on “The fire this time

  1. I have watched this disaster unfold on television, and seen the people who have lost loved ones, neighbours, friends, their houses and all their belongings, including precious photos, heirlooms and all forms of identification that makes them legal entities.
    They only had minutes or seconds to escape, given the unprecedented speed and ferocity of these fires.
    So many animals perished as well, while survivors animals and people alike, suffered horrific burns.
    When you see this, and I guess people who don’t watch tv don’t get a real sense of the devastation (I could be wrong), everything else going on, just pales into insignificance.
    The way that the people of Victoria, the rest of Australia and the world have responded with donations of physical and material aid has been seriously remarkable.
    At times like these, you actually discover a lot about yourself, as well as people at large.
    I must say that what I have witnessed has really restored my faith in human beings.
    I don’t believe that I am alone in saying that I have cried for the victims, survivors, the exhausted firefighters, the animals, and have felt heartened and inspired by so much positive response.

  2. “I have no time for those of the opposite, who bellyache because a few ants made it into the pantry or who complain that it was too hot because the air-conditioning broke. Get a life — look, observe and learn from Susan.”

    A week earlier we had our power cut for 2 hours on a 43 degree day. Our 3 year old was hot and cranky, as were we… We thought that was bad.

    Through the heatwave my garden died, it crunchs under foot. I remember saying to someone ‘this bloody heatwave has devasted my garden’.

    I love my garden, it is what keeps me sane, but this week it is unimportant. The worst I have endured this summer is 2 hours of no power and a crunchy garden, and I could not care less.

    My heart goes out to all the Susans and all those individual people who have suffered the most terrible losses. This is a beautiful article which reminds us that Australians are a resilient and strong lot, and that the sense of community which people think have died with the cities, is still strong in our country towns, and in the hearts of us all.

    And yes, the Alexes and the Susans have my respect and admiration and I know they will get through this.

  3. I was going to say thank you for your written article, but just I found your comments about belly aching – just because the air-conditioner was broken, or its too hot, offensive. Perhaps some of the people complaining about the heat have also contributed something tangible to the victims of these fires. Just because we were not in the fire does not mean we were not affected, that we dont feel compassion for our neighbours. That does not invalidate our experience of our lives here in the city. People here did suffer from the heat. It appears to me that there were two VALID and separate conversations and you have merged them together, changing the context to suit yourself.

  4. I don’t read it like that Paula. Perhaps it was a rather harsh statement, but I think what he is trying to get across is that a broken air conditioner and a heatwave should be of little consquence on the grand sceme of things when thousands of people have just suffered through hell which will take more than a few days of cooler weather to get over.

    I live in the city and I took no offence, and I certainly did not get the impression that Gary was implying I have no compassion or have not contributed at all. I think he has made a very valid statement which does apply to this article.

  5. Each of us has different responses to life situations. I feel that Gary was harsh and invalidated anyone else that complained in any way about the heat. Its not a game, we have no need to compare the different experiences. You are welcome to think/feel what you do, as am I.

  6. Yes I see your point. I just don’t think that is what he was implying. But only Gary can clarify that one.

    And yes you are welcome to think/feel however you please, I was not telling you that you were wrong, I was simply stating that I don’t feel as though that was how it was meant to come across.

    And reality there is no comparison to a broken air conditioner or to a fireball. One you can escape the other you cannot. So give me the broken air conditioner anyday.

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