Free Community Newspaper for the People of the Bushfire Affected Areas Incorporating the tradition of ‘The Evelyn Observer’ (Est. 1873), Kinglake Advertiser, Whittlesea Advertiser, Diamond Valley Advertiser, Yarra Ranges Advertiser and Yea Advertiser
PHONE: 1-800 231 311. FAX: 1-800 231 312.
SATURDAY, MARCH 7, 2009
Vol. 1 No. 1
Welcome to your special new local newspaper This is the first issue of The Phoenix - a new local newspaper with a very special purpose. Our mission is to lend a hand to the people of the areas affected by the horrible ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires in which more than 200 people died, and in which about 2000 homes were destroyed. We aim to be a positive and encouraging influence. We aim to add strength to local people and their recovery.
The Phoenix is a FREE local newspaper. We also have a FREE website for local people to create as their own, and to take their message to the world: www.thephoenix.com.au Our services are FREE. You can reach us on a FREE phone number: 1-800 231 311. You can fax us on a FREE number: 1-800 231 312. The Phoenix will also provide TOTALLY FREE ADVERTISING listings to all local businesses in the region.
The FREE advertising listings in The Phoenix - on an ongoing basis - are to help local business people get back on their feet. We want to encourage local people to do business with local people. We know it will be a long haul. The FREE advertising listings in The Phoenix will be one less cost-burden. We can also arrange FREE advertising listings for you in some other newspapers. The Phoenix is mindful that more than 70 per cent of the Murrindindi
Shire alone has been knocked by this awful catastrophe. The devastation is also wide spread through communities in the Nillumbik, Whittlesea, Mitchell and Yarra Ranges municipalities. The economic effect must also be confronted. The Phoenix is as a community service project by Local Media Pty Ltd. We will be inviting ‘outside’ businesses from around Australia to work with us. Let’s get on with it. - Ash Long, Editor
‘OUR FIRST OBLIGATION IS HOPE’ Flowerdale begins the re-build
● Christine Nixon, Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority chief, at Flowerdale
And Arthurs Creek mourns
● Wednesday saw a funeral service for firefighter John Shepherd killed at Strathewen
KINGLAKE, MARYSVILLE LOCALS WAIT TO RETURN IT IS one month since the ‘Black Saturday’ fires which created the worst disaster in Victoria’s history. On that day temperatures reached 48°C and beyond, and an unprecedented firestorm wiped out entire communities, taking more than 200 lives. Hardest hit were Marysville (45 dead), Strathewen (42), Kinglake (38), and St Andrews (22). More people were killed at Kinglake West, Flowerdale, Humevale, Narbethong, Whittlesea, Toolangi, Strath Creek, Heathcote Junction, Mittons Bridge, Reedy Creek, Upper Plenty and Cambarville. Fires devastated other areas in Victoria including Gippsland, Bendigo and near Beechworth. Other fatalities were suffered at Calignee, Koornalla, Churchill, Eaglehawk and Mudgegonga. Many more people were injured in the horror blazes. Thousands of people have been left homeless. The Australian community was quick to donate goods and cash for the victims. The Red Cross became the focal point for donations; $208 million has been raised to date. Former State Governor John Landy has been appointed chairman of an independent advisory panel to recommend criteria for the distribution of the Appeal funds. Other members of the Panel are Professor Glyn Davis of the University of Melbourne; former Deputy Premier Pat McNamara; Cr Lyn Gunter, Mayor of Murrindindi Shire Council, and Robert Tickner CEO of Australian Red Cross. Christine Nixon, former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, has been appointed to head
YOUR FREE COMMUNITY NEWSPAPER
● A ‘Black Saturday’ memorial on the Melba Hwy near Toolangi and Castella the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority. CFA and SES volunteers continue to be active in working against continuing fire hotspots across the state. Rain has arrived. Community volunteers, support agencies and councils have toiled hard to bring relief to survivors. At Whittlesea Shire, Mayor Cr Mary Lalios, commented on the responsibility of community leaders: “Our first obligation is hope. “Our prayers and thoughts are with those directly impacted by fires, those who are grieving the loss of family members and friends, had their homes destroyed or suffered injuries. It was only on Wednesday (March 4) that the status of the Kilmore - Murrindindi fire was downgraded. As The Phoenix goes to press, some residents at areas including Kinglake and Marysville are yet to be permitted to return to their homes. State Coroner Jennifer Coate has ordered extensive researches through the areas.
Page 2 - The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009
Free Newspaper For The People of The Bushfire Affected Areas Incorporating the tradition of the ‘Evelyn Observer’ (Est. 1873), ‘Kinglake Advertiser’, ‘Whittlesea Advertiser’, ‘Diamond Valley Advertiser’, ‘Yarra Ranges Advertiser’ and ‘Yea Advertiser’
Dedicated to the memory of the victims and survivors of the ‘Black Saturday’ fires: February 7, 2009
CONTACT US Phone: 1-800 231 311 Fax: 1-800 231 312 Head Office: 30 Glen Gully Road, Eltham, Vic 3095 Post: PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095 Web: www.ThePhoenix.com.au E-Mail: editor@ThePhoenix.com.au
OUR PEOPLE Editor: Ash Long Media Director: Fleur Long Research Director: Kristi Bryant Senior Associate Editor: Lee Jones Associate Editor: Joanna Sgubopulos
ABOUT THE PHOENIX There is no better symbol for the spirit of the people of this region that the Phoenix. The phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird with a tail of beautiful gold and red plumage (or purple and blue). It has a 500 to 1,000 year life-cycle, near the end of which it builds itself a nest of myrrh twigs that it then ignites; both nest and bird burn fiercely and are reduced to ashes. From those ashes, a new, young phoenix or phoenix egg arises, reborn anew to live again. The new phoenix is destined to live as long as its old self. The bird was also said to regenerate when hurt or wounded by a foe, thus being almost immortal and invincible — it is also said that it can heal a person with a tear from its eyes and make them temporarily immune to death. The phoenix is a symbol of fire and divinity
GRIM REALITY HITS HOME ■ It is only four weeks - exactly one calendar month - since that awful wave of ‘Black Saturday’ fire descended and took just about everything and everyone in its way. And what a rollercoaster ever since for the survivors. Tent cities, uncertainties, rotten reality with the loss of dearly loved, and the seemingly interminable wait to go back ‘home’ ... whatever that may bring. This area has been in constant media spotlight for the past month ... but all that is coming to an end.
YOUR NEWS, YOUR ADS The Phoenix Newspaper is committed to bringing the latest news to the people of the bushfire-affected areas. We aim to be a positive assistance. The support being offered is in no way in competition with any existing newspaper, government, council or support agency efforts. Your News: Contribute your news by phone, fax, mail or e-mail. We want your stories of how you, family and friends are going about the recovery from the fires. Your Photos: Contribute your photos by e-mail. We prefer clear 300 dpi photos, in jpg format. E-mail to: email@example.com Absent Friends: You can remember ‘Absent Friends’ with a tribute which will be published online and in the print edition. Go to our website for our guidelines. Free Ads: We provide free advertisement listings for all businesses in the bushfire affected area. (Paid display ads are also available). See www.thephoenix.com.au
IMPRINT ‘The Phoenix Newspaper’ is printed by Streamline Press, 155 Johnston St, Fitzroy, for the publisher, Ash Long, for Local Media Pty Ltd, ABN 67 096 680 063, at the registered office, 30 Glen Gully Road, Eltham, Vic 3095. Distributed in conjunction with the ‘Melbourne Observer’, by Local Media Pty Ltd. Responsibility for election and referendum comment is accepted by the Editor, Ash Long. Copyright © 2009, Local Media Pty Ltd. (ACN 096 680 063)
The Editor’s Desk
‘There but for the grace of God’ firstname.lastname@example.org
with Ash Long “For the cause that lacks assistance, ‘Gainst the wrongs that need resistance For the future in the distance, And the good that we can do”
Uneasy wait for families
OUR REGION Online Edition Available across the globe on the World Wide Web at www.thephoenix.com.au Print Edition Covering the communities of Acheron, Arthurs Creek, Bend Of Islands, Beveridge, Black Spur, Break-o'-Day, Broadford, Buxton, Bylands, Castella, Cathkin, Caveat, Christmas Hills, Chum Creek, Clonbinane, Coldstream, Cottles Bridge, Darrweit Guim, Diamond Creek, Dixons Creek, Donnybrook, Eden Park, Eildon, Eltham, Eltham North, Fawcett, Glenburn, Glenvale, Gobur, Gruyere, Healesville, Heathcote Junction, Hidden Valley, Highlands, Homewood, Humevale, Hurstbridge, Kalkallo, Kangaroo Ground, Kerrisdale, Kilmore, Killingworth, Kilmore East, Kinglake, Kinglake Central, Kinglake West, Lilydale, Limestone, Marysville, Mittons Bridge, Molesworth, Moranding, Mount Disappointment, Murrindindi, Myers Creek, Narbethong, Nutfield, Panton Hill, Pheasant Creek, Plenty, Reedy Creek, Research, Ruffy, Smiths Gully, St Andrews, St Helena, Steels Creek, Strath Creek, Strathewen, Sunday Creek, Taggerty, Tallarook, Terip Terip, Thornton, Toolangi, Trawool, Tyaak, Upper Plenty, Wallan, Wallan East, Wandong, Warburton, Waterford Park, Watsons Creek, Wattle Glen, Whittlesea, Whanregarwen, Willowmavin, Yan Yean, Yarck, Yarra Glen, Yarrambat, Yea.
● Peter Hitchener ■ TV cameras and satellite dishes have been part of the furniture over the past month. At Whittlesea Showgrounds, TV trucks beamed pictures around the world. Yea hosted the Sunrise and A Current Affair programs. Peter Hitchener (Nine), Peter Mitchell (Seven) and Helen Kapalos (Ten) were all on location. Over the past week, Warburton and Healesville have shared in the attention. But we will soon be out of the news ... maybe even forgotten. The fires were pushed back to Page 10 in the Herald Sun midweek, and moved well back into the TV news bulletins.
Phoenix ■ That is one of the primary reasons why we have started The Phoenix. After the media crews have gone, there will still be the ongoing need for this area to be served. The local economy will be shell-shocked. Local councils such as Murrindindi will have ‘Buckley’s chance’ in collecting their rates revenues.
■ Spare a thought, if you will, for a Melbourne woman who has one of the most demanding tasks in Victoria’s history. Coroner Jennifer Coate is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the legal intricacies associated with the deaths of more than 200 people in the ● Judge ‘Black Saturday’ Jennifer Coate fires. Judge Coate is determined to give dignity to each of the deceased, and has the almost-impossible task of insisting that every legal requirement is followed to the letter ... whilst marrying this with the compassion needed by the families of victim. Sadly, the slow legal mechanism means that many families cannot find ‘closure’, with funeral services and interment delayed. For some the uneasy wait may be several months. When this Editor was younger and on various country Magistrates’ Court reporting assignments, we would see Ms Coate visit local areas, dispensing justice with a notable mix of common sense, compassion, but firmness. She rose to the position of Deputy Chief Magistrate, and later as a Judge of the County Court. Our departed would seem to be in the best of hands.
● Forensic searches continue this week at Flowerdale
■ Two weeks ago in the Melbourne Observer newspaper, I wrote about the place that our family called home in Flowerdale around 1985-86. (See Phoenix, Page 8) It was a beautiful, modern brick home, fronting the King Parrot Creek. This rubble is all that remains of the house following the Black Saturday inferno. About three-quarters of all homes in the Flowerdale Valley suffered the same fate. Our thoughts are with all affected families.
MOVING FUNERAL AT ARTHURS CK.
Briefs Locals ■ The Shire of Murrindindi is concerned about the economic impact of the Black Saturday fires on local businesses. The Council took out full-page advertisements in the Yea and Alexandra newspapers this week urging locals to do business with locals.
Donation ■ The Rotary Club of Sandringham is donating 20 rural sheds, each 6 x 10, with water tanks, to the bushfire affected areas. One Rotarian donated the $40,000 in steel needed for the project. Anyone requiring the sheds should make a submission to PO Box 76, Alexandra, Vic 3714.
Transport ■ People who have suffered through the bushfires will qualify for free public transport until October 1. The offer includes metro trains, trams and buses, V/Line coaches and trains, and regional buses. Contact 131 638, or download a form at www.metlibk melbourne.com. au
● David McGahy, captain of the Arthurs Creek CFA, paid tribute to John Shepherd ■ The Arthurs Creek - Strathewen community gathered on Wednesday for a service to remember firefighter John Shepherd who was killed in the Black Saturday fires. A lone piper led the tribute at which John’s widow, Dini, spoke of his fine qualities, and recalled their 37 years of marriage. Crew members placed a piece of evergreen on the coffin which has been transported on one of the unit’s older vehicles. The 60-year-old plasterer was much loved in the rural hamlet.
■ The Phoenix covers a wide area within the municipalities of Nillumbik, Murrindindi, Mitchell and Yarra Ranges. It will take a little while to fine-tune this community newspaper ... and to establish the networks of ‘stringer’ correspondents and contributors, so please bear with us. It has not escaped our attention that it is exactly 25 years since we took over The Yea Chronicle business in 1984. In the 10 years that we operated that newspaper, we introduced Kinglake Chronicle and Whittlesea Chronicle editions. We know the area and its people. Prior to that, your columnist had a background as a contributor for the Whittlesea Post (now Whittlesea Leader) dating back to 1973 36 years ago. In the early 1980s, your Editor served as Regional Manager for eight Leader local newspapers including Whittlesea. It is the right time to be back.
The next print edition of The Phoenix will be out on April 1. Watch our website - www.thephoenix.com.au for latest news, and ongoing publication dates.
New site ■ Marysville Primary School is ‘up and running as normal’ from a temporary site at the Taggerty Primary School. A daily bus pick-up is being provided between Narbethong, Buxton and Taggerty.
Benefit ■ A bushfire benefit is to be held at the Ruffy Store on Friday (Feb. 13). Folk musician David Francey will entertain. Tickets are $40 per person. A ‘muso jam session’ will be held on Saturday (Mar. 14) at 4pm. Phone Helen on 5790 4387.
Photos ■ The Phoenix will publish photographs of people and events from the past. We seek contributions. Many people lost all photos in the fires.
● Brian Naylor ■ The memorial service for Brian and Moiree Naylor, of Coombs Rd, Kinglake West, killed in the Black Saturday fires, is to be held today (Sat., Mar. 7) at Parade College, Plenty Rd, Bundoora.
Re-search ■ State Coroner Jennifer Coate ordered a re-search of bushfire areas ahead of residents being allowed to return. The death toll stands at more than 200, and up to 30 more people are still listed as missing.
$1 billion ■ Insurance claims for damage to Victorian properties in the February 7 fires is expected to exceed $1 billion, it was announced this week.
● Andrew Forrest ■ Cranes have been in place at Flowerdale to help with the installation of 10 ‘Donga’ huts from the West Australian mines owned by Australia’s richest man Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals.
The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009 - Page 3
SQUABBLES OVER RELIEF CASH
■ "Clearly people who haven't got any support, who have lost everything and have been uninsured, maybe they get the bigger hand along," said Victorian premiere John Brumby this week, when visiting the Flowerdale area "These are all of the things that are being looked at and examined." His comments came as former State Governor, John Landy, appeared on Melbourne radio station 3AW to discuss pay-outs to families affected by the ‘Black Saturday’ fires. “We think the humanitarian imperative over-rules everything else.” The Independent Advisory Panel of the Victorian Bushfire Appeal, in conjunction with the State Government, is expected to announce details of relief payments in the coming week. The comments came as Mr Brumby, accompanied by Christine Nixon, former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, and now boss of the new Victorian Bushire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority. It is believed that about one-third of the 2000 homes destroyed by fire were uninsured. Talkback radio has already had calls from members of the public who disagree with families receiving payments if their houses were uninsured. Other callers asked for the same charitable emotion that led
Contacts Recovery ■ Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service. 1800 050 400.
DHS ■ The Department of Human Services. 1-300 650 172. www.dhs. vic.gov.au
DPI ■ The Department of Primary Industry. 5761 1528. www.dpi.vic.gov.au
VicRoads ■ Check the conditions of local roads, and closures at www.vicroads. vic.gov.au
● John Brumby at Flowerdale to more than $200 million to be donated through the national appeal. Broadcaster Neil Mitchell said: “Before a dollar has been provided to rebuild one private house the community is divided about who gets what, and whether people stupid enough or desperate enough to live uninsured in a danger zone should be allowed to escape some of the consequences by having a new house provided. “Sadly, the generosity of spirit is fading with the smoke and the sense of community goodwill is being undermined by acri-
● Neil Mitchell
Buses ■ An additional Alexandra-Molesworth-Yea-Seymour return bus service is now running twice daily, seven days a week. Operator Dennis Hodge has details on 5780 1221.
mony and envy. “ The Herald Sun newspaper published an editorial on Thursday saying that perhaps there was the need to “draw a line in the ashes” over covering the re-building of homes of the unisured The discussion about donated money is not the only matter in contention. About 300 residents of Kinglake and Kinglake West met with Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Kieran Walshe at Whittlesea, to discuss gaining entry to their properties. Mr Walshe said he believed that it would be at least another week while searches continued for human remains. It is believed that access will start to be available from about Friday (Mar. 13). The wait at Marysville may be much longer. The area is being treated as an crime scene. All Marysville survivors are expected to be interviewed by Police, so that a complete jigsaw of evidence can be assembled. There are suspicions that the Marysville blaze may have started at the Murrindindi Mill on Saturday afternoon, February 7.
‘We think the humanitarian imperative over-rules everything else’ - John Landy, former State Governor, now Chairman of the independent Advisory Panel for the Victorian Bushfire Relief Fund, speaking at 3AW
■ For assistance with injured livestock, contact the DPI Animal Health Line, 1-800 240 667.
Building ■ The Building Advice Line is 1-300 360 320.
Legals ■ Legal assistance may be found at 1800 113 432.
Nurses ■ Nurses On Call Bushfire Health and Counselling Line. 1-300 606 024.
Wildlife ● Michael Minten and family preview their new home at the Spring Valley Rd reserve at Flowerdale
■ To assist native wildlife, phone Wildlife Victoria on 1300 094 535.
Bushfires ■ The Victorian Bushfire Information Line is 1-800 20 667. The CFA website is www.cfa. vic.gov.au
Clean Up ● Some of the donated vans at Flowerdale
■ The Victorian Bushfire Recovery and Reconstruction Authority has contracted Grocon to undertake the 80,000 tonne cleanup of debris: 1-800 136 762.
■ If you would like to be involved with The Phoenix, call the Editor on 1800 231 311.
■ The Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund may be contacted on 1-800 180 213.
● Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe outside Whittlesea Police Station
● The Murrindindi Mill was wiped out in the ‘Black Saturday’ fires
Page 4 - The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009
Victoria’s Fire Emergency
Re[printed from ‘The Victorian’ Page 4 - Feb. 11, 2009 issue Photos: 7 News and Nine News crews
● Few homes were left in Marysville and Narbethong ● Tom Steinfort, Nine News, at Narbethong ● Sharon Donovan surveys the ruins of her home
● A firefighters cradles his daughter at Kinglake
● Family dreams were destroyed in the blaze
● A Kinglake householder inspects his property
● Vehicles collided in the smoke at Kinglake
● Police stations were lost at Kinglake and Marysville
● Hundreds of homes were razed across Victoria
● An ambulance officer assists a Kinglake firefighter
● People were left with only clothes being worn
● Cars were incapable of being driven
● Most houses were destroyed at Marysville
The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009 - Page 5
Reprinted from Melbourne Observer Page 11 - March 4, 2009
There’s something a bit perverse, even obscene, at the gateway to the bushfire zone, writes Ash Long ■ I am standing at the busy corner of the newly re-opened Melba Highway, and the Healesville-Kinglake Road, at Toolangi, just east of bushfire-bombshelled Kinglake. On the western side of the intersection, overworked Victoria Police members check every vehicle to ensure that only local residents gain entry to the Kinglake area, where 550 homes were destroyed by the Black Saturday fires, a little more than three weeks ago. As we go to press, the death toll is at 208, with dozens more missing. As cars queue to go through the verification process at the roadblock, news comes across the radio that some of these same Kinglake residents were unable to access basics such as food and fresh water over some of last weekend. On the eastern side of the intersection, countless contractors cut an ugly freeway-size slice through the heavy forest, felling thousands of trees, to make way for a billion dollar pipeline from a country river that has slowed to a shallow trickle. There is not a single ‘greenie’ on the pipeline side of the highway to protest against the decimation of all these trees. On the bushfire-affected side of the road, residents of Nillumbik Shire were threatened with big fines if they dared to remove a single tree, or reduce fuel from their properties prior to the fires. Even dead trees received local government protection. The Brumby Government has found more than one billion dollars to finance this pipe. Meanwhile, the Australian people have stretched with every thing from doorknocks to special efforts to raise $208 million about one-fifth - for the bushfire victims. The billion dollar pipeline will take some years to bring a single drop of water from a drought-ravaged country zone to Melbourne’s Sugarloaf Dam, between Yarra Glen and Eltham.. This water supply will by-pass the Kinglake community that so badly needs it right now. What is wrong with us that we can rubber-stamp a huge industrial exercise, particularly during a ‘red-alert’ fire danger period, within days of the Black Saturday disaster? On Monday this week, Kinglake local residents complained to the media that food supplies had been cut, and that they had difficulty accessing fresh water supplies last weekend. The overworked Murrindindi Shire Mayor, Cr Lyn Gunter, went on radio to say that some food was available to the victims, through Anglicare, but onloy during business hours, and only on weekdays. By the end of the day, former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner
● Roadblocks to Kinglake at Melba Hwy, Toolangi
HELP IT’S IN THE PIPELINE
● Works continue this week on the billion-dollar North-South Pipeline at Devlin’s Bridge
Christine Nixon, on the first day heading Victoria’s reconstruction authority, reinstated 24-hour supply of food for all these people, who lost absoultely everything in the fires. Ms Nixon promised that hot meals would also be available for the Kinglake residents each evening. It certainly beats the absurdity of donated food being locked away, out of the reach of hungry, needy people. Fresh water is being trucked in to tKinglake by Yarra Valley Water, but there are difficulties with supplies being contaminated in tanks that have been poulluted by ash and debris from the fires. There was an outbreak of gastroenteritis at the weekend, and the official response appears slow. Community worker Jacqueline Pascarl goes on television news bulletins on Monday to say that third world nations have better health conditions than this. Channel 7 reporter Norm Beaman says every obstacle was put in his team’s way to make it difficult for complaints to be shared with the TV news crews. They had a wait of more than five hours before being able to talk with a community spokeswoman, who herself receives a sideways slur by an official spokesman. A little south, the Yarra Ranges Shire Council has set up relief centres at centres including Yarra Glen and Healesville for affected people to secure bottled water supplies. At these centres, there is the irony of a surfeit of donated goods. A ‘No More Donations’ sign sits alongside the entrance to the Yarra Glen centre, draped under an Australian flag which has become the universal symbol for re-building. Whilst signs are erected throughout the region declaring ‘Thank You Australia’, there is an undercurrent of frustration that is bubbling. For three weeks, Marysville residents have been locked out of their district, on the instructions of State Coroner Jennifer Coate who declared the town as a “crime scene”. “Why don’t they call it a disaster zone, rather than a crime zone?” asks one local, who wants to return home, if only to survey the damage to their home, and start the first steps towards re-building their lives. This week, the Marysville start using words like “demand” in pushing their case to be allowed to return to their town. To date, they were only permitted one trip, on a bus, and forbidden to take cameras or mobile phones. They ask why they were not allowed to disembark from the bus, not allowed to take photographs of their own homes, especially as the scenes have been covered extensively in the media, sometimes with official permission. They acknowledge that the Coroner’s Office has a duty to the dead, and they respect the dignity being accorded. But, they are starting to argue, increasingly louder, that there is also a duty owed to the lliving. And three weeks is more than long enough, they point out. They have been physically attacked. They have been psychologically assaulted. Now they are living an existence of a thousand cuts. They are forced to live in this stinking world of uncertainty. What about their dignity? They have run out of patience.
Page 6 - The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009
● Resembling something like a science fiction movie, a satellite dish stands to receive a signal in the rubble of a home flattened in the fires near the Murrindindi Mill, near Yea.
● Repirnted from the Melbourne Observer Page 12 - March 4, 2009
■ The genuine response by Victorian Premier John Brumby to the gravity of the Black Saturday emergency has impressed most Victorians. Mr Brumby took time out on Sunday to visit the country music festival at Wandong, to sing a rendition similiar to Slim Dustry’s I Love To Have A Beer With ... Mr Brumby’s media minders were possibly beside themselves about comparisons to Nero and fiddles, and as complaints started to come from survivors of towns such as Kinglake and Marysville. However, at Flowerdale, it is a different story, reports Ash Long.
GHOST TOWN SPRINGS TO LIFE ● A gas tank sits over a melted bicycle frame outside a burnt-out home in the Flowerdale Valley.
● This mudbrick home was destroyed after fire caught under its eaves on ‘Black Saturday’. The residents avoided the inferno that surrounded the home by just minutes.
● Irony: all that remains of this property is a burnt fence and an old-style Metropolitan Fire Brigade street alarm
■ As soon as I spotted the Eureka flag, alongside the Aussie flag, at the temporary village at Flowerdale, the flash went through my mind that the locals here will be just fine in their recovery from the Black Saturday fires. Flowerdale is one of those relatively forgotten spots when the fire reports come on the TV screen. Some 12 or 14 people died here on that fateful day. About four out of every five homes has been wiped out. But Flowerdale doesn’t have a main street. It has goat tracks, and houses hidden away up hills, and tucked in gullies. It backs onto Mount Disappointment, and locals here knew they were in trouble as they listened to Country Fire Authority radios ... and when the electricity died across the valley. Late that Saturday afternoon, as the fires swept across the areas from Kilmore East, Clonbinane, Wandong and Whittlesea, then east towards Kinglake, Flowerdale was isolated. Thankfully, a number of the women and children made the 30-km journey to Yea, where an emergency centre had been set up at the recreation reserve of that town, whose population is normally 1100. Some 18 or so men congregated at the Flowerdale Hotel, certainly not for a Saturday afternoon drink, but to try and save the landmark hub of the area run by Steve Phelan and his family. As spot fires spread from the major blazes, and fires also approached over the Murchison Gap near Broadford in the west, Glenburn in the east, and Kinglake West to the north, it was an extraordinary battle. A handful of locals with fourwheel drive vehicles equipped with 1000-litre tanks worked bravely within a few hundred metres of the pub building. Miraculously, the building was saved. The men fought the fires for 30 hours without sleep, and were isolated from the rest of the world, with no power, no communications, no
help, no hope. It was only next day when two folk, dressed in freshly pressed CFA yellow overalls arrived: they were reporters from The Australian newspaper. The damage was beyond words. Houses, properties, cars ... and people ... wiped out. The ‘happy valley’ had been decimated. Like nearby Glenburn, where the iconic hotel was blasted off the map, and Murrindindi, where the historic mill was equally wiped out, Flowerdale was often compared to Hiroshima, Japan, after the 1945 atomic bombs. Experts said it was as if eight A-bombs had hit the area. Equally as powerful came the resolve of the Flowerdale people to recover. Many of the families had settled in the tent city established by the Army at Yea. The locals started to re-gather using the saved Flowerdale Hotel as a hub, where daily meetings were introduced, and meals served. When official help appeared slow, the locals banded together to start building their own village at the local sports ground. A Whittlesea hardware store owner helped with water pipes. A philanthropic trust came to the party with caravans. A general dining area was established. Container loads of fun arrived - and ‘chippies’ erected shelving for the stocks. The computerminded set up a database of the donated items. A community service hub was set up at the Flowerdale Hall, which survived the blaze. The hotel and store started to open for business. The mindset here is to try and shun tyhe donated goods, and generate trade through these two important parts of the town’s economy. A local committee has been established to steer the re-build, and work around the indecision that seems to surround the government bodies. Nonetheless, the Flowerdale people seem intent on building bridges rather than burning them. Making their point, but not enemies. These people are winners.
● Peter Williams ■ Thank goodness there are blokes in this world like Peter Williams. Peter Williams didn’t live in the fire-bombshelled area of Flowerdale, but he is spending about 12 hours a day there at the moment, helping the extraordinary number of people who lost their homes in the February 7 fire. About 80 poer cent of the estimated 1500 people of Flowerdale were affected by the inferno. Peter grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in suburban Flemington, but through one of life’s quirks, found proficiency as he worked with the internet in its early days. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands, became one of the leading thinkers in the internet industry in Australia, and is now Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte Digital, a division of the worldwide accounting firm. Peter’s sister and husband were living in a mud-brick house near the epi-centre of the ‘Black Saturday’ fire. Fortunately, they got out in the nick of time, but their house was totally destroyed. Peter lent a hand, and on visiting the area, knew there something more that he could do. He urgently raised Flowerdale’s plight with the partners of Deloitte. Apart from financial help, the firm seems to have unofficially adopted the area, and is using its connections to facilitate recovery. Flowerdale has always had a maverick streak, and locals are not going to wait on any government body to crank up. Peter Williams and associates have prepared a properly written submission for funding for a village at the local recreation reserve, over the next year or two, as recovery takes place. He has used connections to help more than a dozen caravans to find their way there from a philanthropic trust. Microsoft were contacted to provide computers. When kindergarten teachers needed paying, he, his wife and his parents dipped into their own pockets. Peter has engineered a website at helpflowerdalenow.blog spot.com, and he provides wise counsel on the ground to many of the families. Another unsung hero. - By Ash Long
The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009 - Page 7
TOTALLY FREE COMMUNITY CLASSSIFIED ADVERTISING* FREECALL PHONE: 1-800 231 311. FREEFAX: 1-800 231 312 ABSENT FRIENDS
TELL the community about the life and times of the person you have lost, with a free tribute in The Phoenix Newspaper. Should you wish to contribute an article, there are guidelines listed on the form on this page. Please complete the form, and return it to The Phoenix Newspaper. Send details: ■ Mail: PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095 ■ E-Mail: editor@the phoenix.com.au ■ Fax: 1-800 231 312J-M★ ___________________________________________
IF you or your organisation want to promote a fund raising event, we will publicise it for you in The Phoenix Newspaper. We can also arrange free publicity in the Melbourne Observer and The Victorian newspapers, to widen the reach of the publicity. Send an e-mail to email@example.com J-M★ ___________________________________________
THE PHOENIX NEWSPAPER is a community service project of Local Media Pty Ltd, publishers of the Melbourne Observer and The Victorian Newspaper. Local Media also publishes Travel Monthly, Sydney News and Brisbane Sun newspapers.
*FREE 30-word classified advertising is available in The Phoenix to all businesses in the Shires of Nillumbik, Mitchell, Murrindindi and Yarra Ranges. We will list your details in this newspaper and at www. thephoenix.com.au We can also arrange free advertising for your business elsewhere. The fires have hit the local economy hard. We are keen to lend a hand.J-M★ ___________________________________________
TURN unwanted goods into cash with a FREE ‘For Sale’ advertisement in The Phoenix. You can have a free 30-word advertisement. It will also appear free in the Melbourne Observer newspaper for up to four weeks, to increase your chances of finding the right buyer - at the right price. To lodge your free ad, send an e-mail to editor@ thephoenix.com.au Or freefax to 1-800 231 312. Or mail to PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095. Please include your name, address and phone number for verification purposes. J-M★ ___________________________________________
EMPLOYMENT/ JOBS TELE-SALES. The Phoenix Newspaper has a part-time position available for a special person to work from their own home office. You must have your own landline phone, fax, computer, email access, ABN, enthusiasm, and a bright, salesoriented attitude. The Phoenix will supply all sales leads. You will contact businesses, outside our circulation area, to organise their advertising. You will be paid weekly by generous commission. You will also be reimbursed for all phone call costs. To find out more, and to be sent an Advertising Sales Agent’s Kit, please contact Ash Long, Editor, The Phoenix, on 1-800 231 311, or e-mail editor@ thephoenix.com.au J-M★ ___________________________________________
The Phoenix is keen to lend a hand to all local people in the bushfire affected areas. For assistance, please contact our office at Eltham: ■ Mail: PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095 ■ E-Mail: editor@the phoenix.com.au ■ Phone: 1-800 231 311 ■ Fax: 1-800 231 312J-M★ ___________________________________________
SERVICES GUIDE *FREE 30-word classified advertising is available in The Phoenix to all businesses in the Shires of Nillumbik, Mitchell, Murrindindi and Yarra Ranges. We will list your details in this newspaper and at www. thephoenix.com.au We can also arrange free advertising for your business elsewhere. The fires have hit the local economy hard. We are keen to lend a hand.J-M★ ___________________________________________
WHAT’S ON YOU can advertise your organisation’s event, free in The Phoenix. We can also give your event free publicity across the state in our Melbourne Observer and The Victorian newspapers. To have your free What’s On notice published, please send the following details: date of event, times (start and finish), details of the event including location, added comments. We also need your name, address and phone number for verification purposes. Send details: ■ Mail: PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095 ■ E-Mail: editor@the phoenix.com.au ■ Fax: 1-800 231 312J-M★ ___________________________________________
Absent Friends Tributes and Obituaries - Free of Charge The Phoenix publishes Obituary Tributes, without charge. Condolences are extended to families on their loss. While at all times we respect your privacy, your family may deem it appropriate to pay tribute to your loved one by publishing an obituary in The Phoenix. This is a free service - we simply want to give you the space to tell the community of the life and times of the person you have lost. Should you wish to contribute an obituary these simple guidelines may help. Please type or PRINT your submission. ❏ Name in full, date of brith, date death. ❏ Place of birth, place of death, circumstance of death. ❏ Where educated. Where did he/she live mostly? ❏ How will he/she be remembered? Highlights/achievements in life. ❏ Surviving family members. Please PRINT names. ❏ You may wish to include parts of the eulogy used at the funeral service (please attach a copy if possible). Please include name of funeral director. Please include details of the author of the submission, details of their relationship to the deceased, and daytime phone number. To accommodate all requests, we prefer articles to be kept to 350 words. Completed forms should be sent to the The Phoenix, PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095. E-mails are accepted, no phone calls please. Submitter’s Detail. Not for publication, but for verification purposes Post to: ‘Absent Friends’ The Phoenix, PO Box 1278, Research, Vic 3095 Or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Name: Address: Phone:
HERE’S WHERE TO GET YOUR COPY OF THE PHOENIX The Phoenix Newspaper is a free community newspaper available in the bushfire affected areas, through a network of outlets. We have taken the liberty of delivering bulk quantities to the following outlets throughout the Shires of Murrindindi, Nillumbik, Mitchell and Yarra Ranges. We thank these businesses for their assistance in bringing The Phoenix to you. ALEXANDRA, 3717 * Alexandra Foodworks 102 Grant St. 5772 1615 + Alexandra Library. 49 Grant St. 5772 0349. * Alexandra Newsagency. 82-84 Grant St. 5772 1025. + Commercial Hotel. 65 Grant St. 5772 1004. + Mount Pleasant Hotel. 90 Grant St. 5772 1083. + Shamrock Hotel. 80 Grant St. 5772 1015. + Shire of Murrindindi Office. 28 Perkins St. 5772 0333. BONNIE DOON, 3720 + Bonnie Doon Supermarket. Maroondah Hwy. 5778 7236 BROADFORD, 3658 * Broadford Newsagency. 67 High St. 5784 1487. + Grasso's Supermarket. 65 High St. 5784 1405 + Shire of Mitchell Offices. 113 High St. 5734 6200 BUXTON, 3711 * Buxton General Store. 2187 Maroondah Hwy. 5774 7301 DIAMOND CREEK, 3089 + Caltex Service Station. 103-109 Main Hurstbridge Rd. 9438 5740. * Diamond Creek Newsagency. 62A Main Hurstbridge Rd. 9438 1470 + Nillumbik Cellars. 11 Chute St. 9438 1249 * Ritchies Supermarket. 64 Main Rd. 9438 2455 DONNYBROOK, 3064 + Donnybrook Hotel. 825 Donnybrook Rd. 9745 2380 + Donnybrook Store. 810 Donnybrook Rd. 9745 2219 DOREEN, 3754 * Doreen General Store. 920 Yan Yean Rd. 9717 3509 EILDON, 3713 + Eildon Bakery Cafe. 10 Main St. 5774 2362 * Eildon Newsagency. Main St. 5774 2372 ELTHAM, 3095 * Eltham Newsagency. 958 Main Rd. 9439 9612. ELTHAM NORTH, 3095 + Sharkys Seafood Cafe. 33 Wattletree Rd. 9439 9360 FLOWERDALE, 3717 * Flowerdale Hotel. 3325 Whittlesea-Yea Rd. 5780 1230 * Hazeldene General Store. Broome Rd. 5780 1202. GLENBURN, 3717 * Glenburn (United) Roadhouse. 3883 Melba Hwy. 5797 8312 GREENSBOROUGH, 3088 + Shire of Nillumbik Office. Civic Dr. 9433 3111 HEALESVILLE, 3777 * Healesville Newsagency. 195 Maroondah Hwy. 5962 4161 HURSTBRIDGE, 3099 * Hurstbridge Newsagency. Main Rd. 9718 2045 KALKALLO, 3064 + Kalkallo Hotel. Hume Fwy, 9745 2206 KANGAROO GROUND, 3097 * Kangaroo Ground Supply Store. Eltham-Yarra Glen Rd. 9712 0200. * Kangaroo Ground Post Office. c/- Kings Winery. 15 Graham Rd. 9712 0666. KILMORE, 3764 + BP Roadhouse. 102 Sydney St. * Finch's IGA Supermarket. 22 Sydney St. 5782 1018. * Foodworks Supermarket. 84 Sydney St. 5782 1007 + Kemps Bakery. 65 Sydney St. 5781 0178 + Kilmore Library. 12 Sydney St. 5782 1322 * Kilmore Newsagency. 41 Sydney St. 5782 1465 + Putker's Bakery. 54 Sydney St. 5782 1129 + Red Lion Hotel. 45 Sydney St. 5782 1411 + Royal Oak Hotel. 29-31 Sydney St. 5782 1291 KINGLAKE, 3763 * Kinglake Food Works. 12 Main Rd. 5786 1555 * National Park Hotel. 28 Whittlesea-Kinglake Rd. 5786 1230 + Kinglake Bakehouse. 1/1 Main Rd. 5786 1709 + Kinglake Library. 19 Kinglake-Whittlesea Rd. 5786 1522 KINGLAKE WEST, 3757 * Kinglake West General Store. 1263 Yea Rd. 5786 5209 LAURIMAR, 3754 + Laurimar Cafe. 25 Hazel Glen Dr. 9717 4151 LILYDALE, 3140 + Shire of Yarra Ranges Offices. 15 Anderson St. 1-300 368 333 MANSFIELD, 3722 + Mansfield Newsagency. 57-59 High St. 5775 2649
MARYSVILLE, 3779 ^ To Be Advised MERTON, 3715 + BP Merton Roadhouse. Maroondah Hwy. 5778 9507 MOLESWORTH, 3718 + Molesworth Hotel. Goulburn Valley Hwy. 5797 6266 NARBETHONG, 3778 * Black Spur Inn Hotel. 436 Maroondah Hwy. 5963 7121 PANTON HILL, 3759 * Panton Hill General Store & Post Office. 9719 7771 PHEASANT CREEK, 3757 + To Be Advised PLENTY, 3090 + Plenty Store.119 Yan Yean Rd. 9434 4472 RESEARCH, 3095 + Research Licensed Post Office 1546 Main Rd. 9437 0544 * Research Supermarket. 1540 Main Rd. 9437 2374 SEYMOUR, 3660 * Seymour newsXpress. 66 Station St. 5792 1129 SMITHS GULLY, 3760 * Smiths Gully General Store. 9710 1295. SOUTH MORANG, 3752 + City of Whittlesea Offices. Ferres Blvd. 9217 2170. * South Morang Newsagency. 17-19 Gorge Rd. 9404 1502 ST ANDREWS, 3761 * St Andrews General Store. Main Rd. 9710 1200 STRATH CREEK, 3658 * Strath Creek General Store. Glover St. 5784 9220. TAGGERTY, 3714 * Taggerty General Store. 26 Thornton Rd. 5774 7201. TALLAROOK, 3659 + Tallarook General Store. 36 Main St. 5792 2228 + Tallarook Hotel. 7 Main St. 5792 1743 THORNTON, 3712 * Thornton General Store. 1365 Taggerty Rd, Thornton. 5773 2265. TOOLANGI, 3777 * Toolangi General Store. 5962 9297 + Tollangi Tavern. 1390 Myers Creek Rd. 5962 9398 WALLAN, 3756 + Hogan's Hotel. 92 High St. 5783 1251 + United Service Station. 11 High St. 5783 3200 + Wallan Milk Bar. Shop 2, 41 High St. 5783 1809 * Wallan Newsagency. 59 High St. 5783 1215 WALLAN EAST, 3756 + Rattlers Hotel. 21 Station St. 5783 1324 WANDONG, 3758 * IGA Supermarket. Shop 8, 3272 Epping-Kilmore Rd. 5787 1911 + Kemps Bakery. Shop 4, 3272 Epping-Kilmore Rd. 5787 2155 + Magpie and Stump Hotel. Epping-Kilmore Rd. 5787 1999 * Wandong General Store. 3307 Epping-Kilmore Rd. 5787 1201 WATTLE GLEN, 3096 * Peppers Paddock General Store. 13 Kangaroo Ground Rd, Wattle Glen. 9438 4030. WHITTLESEA, 3757 * Foodworks Whittlesea. 65 Church St. 9716 2257 + IGA Supermarket. 1-22 Church St. 9716 2005 + Royal Mail Hotel. 29 Beech St. 9716 1400. + Whittlesea Hotel. 2424 Plenty Rd. 9716 2002 * Whittlesea newsXpress. 57 Church St. 9716 2060 YARCK, 3719 * Yarck General Store. 6595 Maroondah Hwy, Yarck. 5773 4204. YARRA GLEN, 3775 * Yarra Glen Newsagent. 32 Bell St. 9730 1392. YARRAMBAT, 3091 * Yarrambat General Store. 466 Ironbark Rd. 9436 1434 YEA, 3717 + Amble Inn Cafe. 24 High St. 5797 2680 + Country Club Hotel. 18 High St. 5797 2514 + Mobil Service Station. 31 High St. 5792 2008 + Royal Mail Hotel. 88 High St. 5792 2515 * Yea Foodworks. 10-24 High St. 5797 2611 + Yea Library. The Semi-Circle. 5797 2209 * Yea Newsagency. 74 High St. 5797 2196 + Yea Take-Away. 68 High St. 5792 2664
This is an interim list only, and is subject to changes, road openings and access. If you would like to have free copies of The Phoenix available at your business for free distribution to the public, please phone on 1-800 231 311 and leave a message. Or e-mail: email@example.com
Page 8 - The Phoenix - Saturday, March 7, 2009
Reprinted from Melbourne Observer Page 11 - February 18, 2009
Editor Ash Long reflects: It is 4am Sunday as I pen this. I have tried to sleep for hours, but my brain is in overdrive. It behaves like an uncontrollable ‘time machine’ to past times and past places. I am emotionally paralysed over the awful fires of a week ago. Yet my immediate family is safe. My home still stands. If I am mentally wrecked over the fire’s savage toll, what about the people who have lost everything? Good people whose lives were destroyed in a single afternoon, with their loved ones ripped from them forever in a haunting moment. As a journalist I have looked on at these people at the relief centres at Yea and Whittlesea. They have nothing, except their memories and their pride. For many, their only belongings are carried in plastic garbage bags. How do they rebuild from this? Like most reporters, I have worked continuously in the seven horrible days since those unforgiving, unprecedented fires. My job has been to assemble facts, capture photographs, and somehow translate the horror into English. We have done our best, but we have failed. Our training, our experience, our talents ... have not equipped us to tell this story. We have pieced together facts and figures, glimpses of personal survival stories, tidbits of heroism tales, and a sampling of the tributes due to those taken. I am invited to the service today (Sunday) at the Kinglake State Emergency Service unit, to be attended by the Governor-General Quentin Bryce. I cannot go. I cannot face the Kinglake people. They need their privacy. I cannot face Kinglake yet. There are too many memories. I went to bed at 12.30am. But there was no sleep. This is the first time in seven days that I allowed myself to think. To remember. To ponder. Probably the first occasion that I have allowed the emotions to fully engage. The stabbing memory came like a thunderbolt. I used to live in Flowerdale. Our home was on the Whittlesea-Yea Road. Our home, and it was a beautiful home, used to back out on to the King Parrot Creek. Our kids used to play there every day. Except for the calendar, we could have been there in the middle of this firestorm. I was 30 then. What could I have done for my then six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son? When the fire came, we could not have escaped the nine-minute road trip towards Kinglake West. The wrecks of cars littering the main road are ample proof of that. We could not have escaped towards Glenburn or Yea. The burnt-out shell of every second home on Break-o’-Day Road, and the carcase of the Glenburn Hotel convince us of that too. This is the road that our family travelled four times every day, from Yea to Mernda and back, in the kids’ school years. The same roads that we used to deliver newspapers when we published the Yea Chronicle, Kinglake Chronicle and Whittlesea Chronicle from 1984 to 1993. We knew many of these people so well. We reported the weekly news and photographs of these folk and their doings every week. We were the first sponsors of the Kinglake Football Club in the 1980s. We enjoyed so many Friday luncehons at the Nat-
‘There but for the grace of God’ ional Park Hotel. Some 15 per cent of the Kinglake population has now been taken. We will never see them again. There but for the grace of God ... Some 80 per cent of Flowerdale’s homes have been flattened. We will never know that happy valley in the same way again. Officials told me off -the-record last week that they had yet to conduct a thorough search of the area. What will they find anyway? Clinical news reports tell us that temperatures reached 1200°C in the fires. Some say the force of the horror was equal to eight or nine of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Some columns estimate worse. The morbid statistical reports go one step short of comparing the temperatures to a crematorium. They add gingerly that rescue workers and forensic scientists continue their hunt for items such as personal jewellery. This does not dull the mind from faces. And names. And memories. As the radio news bulletins started on Black Saturday, panicked family members appealed for any news on folk who were missing. There were some reunions, but there were also many gaps. The bulletin boards set up on the Internet have thousands of messages with people searching, often in vain, for their loved ones. Nothing is more poignant than the hand-written notice boards at the relief stations, with people desperate to find those close to them. Close, in heart, at least.
It is still the middle of the night, with all its blackness and loneliness. My mind travels along the district’s roads. I see Coombs Road, Kinglake West, home of Brian and Moiree Naylor, who perished. These were smart people who were well prepared. They had a beautiful, safe home. They had a reliable car, with properly-prepared trailer with water tank and hoses. If sensible folk, with resources, and more than 70 years of life experience cannot escape the fires, who can? What sadness this area has brought. It was less than 12 months ago that one of the Naylor boys, Matt, died in a light aircraft crash. I hear that their daughter, Jane, had to take refuge in a dam in their attempt to survive. Water boils at 100°C, but what else do you do when faced with such an indiscriminate holocaust? I mentally travel across the Mountain ridge. A building alongside the Kinglake West store is wrecked. So too is an iconic home at the Tommy’s Hut corner. The Pheasant Creek store. We used to deliver papers there too. My mind goes to the KW store’s former proprietors, Peter and Jenny Beales, but I glimpse Peter’s face on a TV news report. At least he’s safe. I think of my mate, Lyn Gunter, who is now Mayor of the Shire of Murrindindi. About 70 per cent of the area has been affected. I heard her on radio on the Sunday morning of the disaster: she was flying back urgently from business in Queensland.
At that time, she didn’t know whether her Flowerdale home still stood.. I think about the Hazeldene General Store at Flowerdale. You can only access it over a timber bridge, which was almost wiped out several years ago when floods swelled the King Parrot Creek. This time the bridge barely survives, and people can access the store by the bridge, but only by foot. I can only guess what happened to the folk who lived along bush roads with names like the Goat’s Track and Long Gully Road. I excuse myself a laconic smile as I hear that they saved the Flowerdale pub. How Australian is that? No doubt the yarn will be told at the bar for years. It will need no exaggeration. I think about the property that was alongside our Flowerdale property: ‘Happy Valley’. What a misnomer. And what an inappropriate time to have the name ‘Ash’. Fears arise in my mind for the locals. Is Ray Butterworth OK? He used to wander through our property every weekend to go fishing. Is Norm Berndt OK? And yes ... if I replay in my mind, I saw his wife June at a funeral in Yea on Thursday. I was too scared to ask about Norm. There were more questions when the answers were already known. My long-time friend, and Observer columnist, Yvonne Lawrence, emailed with the news that Marcel Smits was dead. She assumed I already knew. Marcel served with
Yvonne on the Cat Protection Society. His company looks after many of the courier and transport logistics for the newspaper. A smart man beaten by a ruthless blaze. I think about David and Carol Holcombe who were lost in the fire, leaving daughter Ella, Patrick and Eugene. Ella was in the same class at school with our son James. Reg Evans comes to mind: the 80year-old actor who had a passion for life, and who was unafraid to mentally poke local newspaper editors about political issues. It’s surreal. This nightmare just doesn’t go away. Smoke still wafts. A chilling SMS message arrives from my accountant friend, David Purcell. He escaped Kinglake with three minutes to spare. Firefighter Graeme Broadbent’s team were almost trapped at Clonbinane when the inferno jumped the Hume Freeway. They had to burn a track to move their fire truck out of the danger. I hear of another fire team that had to drive their fire truck through fences and over logs to get out of the hellon-earth that was Marysville. I read e-mails from friends and Observer readers: they continue to weep at the awful truth. Just about everyone knows someone who is affected. Or dead. This will affect our national psyche in times that are already tough. But goods and money are donated like never before. The Australian-ness of people lending a hend is just humbling. I try again to go to sleep, and I am in luck. A couple of hours. But the nightmare is still there when I wake. There but for the grace of God ... The news that Brendan Sokaluk has been charged with the fires brings me no relief. It already looks as though he may be subjected to the same type of media vilification campaign when Derryn Hinch prematurely named Fr Michael Glennon. Hinch’s move on Glennon, probably well-intentioned, actually had the reverse effect of jeopardising a fair trial. What will happen from here? Already the media is full of arguments of how Australians will go about the rebuild. Politicians are already posturing for photo opportunities. The inbox is already flooded with press releases from loud organisations wanting to persuade. The looters beat the cockroaches out of their nests. Arguments will dominate the chatter. Should we have bunkers? What about early alarms? Can people evacuate early? Royal Commissions. Those who have never lived in the bush will have trouble in real comprehension. Even if there is any early alarm, where do people go? The notion of town bunkers is fine, but where do you accomodate 1000 or more people. How much oxygen would you need to sustain that? This is Victoria’s worst-ever peace-time disaster. We can only pray there is no repeat. Can we learn from this horror? Probably not. Fast forward several hours, and we are driving on the Metropolitan Ring Road, as the smoke clouds fill the sky to the north. The driver in the car alongside us mindlessly flicks cigarette ash outside his driver’s window. God help us.