The Eurobodalla Writers extend a huge thank you to firefighters, emergency and essential services, and volunteers for your dedication and courage over an extended period of time to help our communities.
Emotions raw of survival, of loss, of friendship and community, of a future unknown, of counting your blessings – we hope that everyone is getting the support and comfort in ways that will help you, your loved ones, friends, and community.
Many stories are being told of tragedy, fear, that sliver of hope realised, tenderness, and even laughter and joyful moments in the midst of despair. Thoughts of the summer that wasn’t circulate and press upon memory, and this page on the Eurobodalla Writers’ website will include short stories and poems by members expressing the many and varied impact of the bushfires, and then floods. You can share the link so that others can read, but please respect the writers and don’t copy or share their work.
The dragon breathes out
Spits tongues crimson, tangerine, gold
Devours brittle bush
Black spumes spew forth
Demonic, hellish, apocalyptic
It is 2 am
The eye sees, the ear hears nothing
No power no phone no internet
Embers tossed high spat up like fire crackers
The dragon gorging morphing
Acrid smoke punctures lungs, curdling
Blackened leaves rain down
Strewn like seaweed along the sand
Preparation protection packing
The little brown suitcase – quick!
Precious link to the past
Rattled minds raw hearts stunned
Huddling on beaches, backs to the water
Holding each other in the 2 pm dark
Plugged in again
Some lost everything
Stopped at the gate, took next door
Wildlife incinerated, forests blackened sticks
How to process so much loss
And yet… courage, community and hope
Exhausted fireys return to the fray
Helicopters hammer close by, scoop up water, taming the beast
Homes and pockets open
New shoots spring fluoro green, bright fuzz on scorched trees
A chicken lays its first egg
A wallaby, nursed back to health, returns each evening in thanks
A firey cradles water dragon eggs, from the rubble of a gutted home
© Rosie Toth March 2020
Please Send The Fire Away
At 6.30am on 31st December 2019 the Rural Fire Service sent everyone an urgent phone message: the fire is here, seek shelter or go to the beach.
I fled at once to the local evacuation centre, 2k away. By 10.15 I was sent to a motel in Batemans Bay CBD, 1k away, with a woman I knew slightly, both of us oldies with health issues. At about 12.30 lunchtime the huge glass windows in our room got really hot, the sky was a horrible brown, so we soaked bath towels in case we had to put them over our heads. Suddenly the whole world turned crimson for maybe 30 seconds, then pitch black. We felt our way into our tiny shower room and quietly and calmly said the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm repeatedly. We remained like that for 30 or 40 minutes. For the whole time we were in that situation, I felt like we were in a quiet, calm little bubble. We came out when the sky lightened in the tiny window.
On 4th January in the middle of the day, the motel windows started getting hot again. I was alone and went on the verandah and watched the sky go brown again. Motel staff were hosing the trees. I watched a large, horrible, dark brown cloud slowly, determinedly coming towards us from the south. Oh, no, I thought, not again! It kept coming and was almost above us and I spontaneously said aloud “Oh God, please send it away, please send the cloud and fire away, I can’t bear it again, please send the fire away, dear God, please send the cloud away, please send it away!” Immediately I said these words, the cloud stopped in its tracks, then retreated! It did not dissolve, it just went back south, slowly and determinedly, the way it had come! It did so immediately, and very clearly. Fortunately I had the room to myself and was able to thank The Divine aloud, over and over again, in between sobs of relief!
Two days later on the 6th, I was meditating on the motel verandah, the sky a light grey. After meditating, I was just staring vaguely and peacefully at the sky, and suddenly realised I was staring at a sky chock-full of dancing vibrations! The air around me was just chockers with sparkling, dancing vibrations. I sat there in bliss, watching, and quietly thanking God in adoration and gratitude.
NOTE: The sparkling vibrations in the air are called Chaitanya in the Hindu religion.
I have not exaggerated or embellished anything; everything happened exactly as I have written. I went home on the 8th. A few houses on the other side of my suburb were destroyed. My side was untouched. It was wonderful to be back with my meditation corner in my bedroom!
In those nine days alone, some 456 homes were destroyed in Eurobodalla shire, more than a dozen businesses destroyed or badly damaged, and more than 1,000 out-buildings – studios, garages, storage sheds, farm buildings – destroyed. The fires went on to do much more damage during January.
These are only some of my experiences in Batemans Bay from 31 Dec to 8 Jan
© Jennie Mairie 20 March 2020
(as part of the bushfire stories and poems series)
Blazing lights, piercing pain
Frightened screams cry out in vain
Heart beats faster
Cold, scared – disaster
A shadow above – exultation
Monsters in night
Circling demons enter the gloom
Sobs heard from that scary room
Room fills with light – salvation
Banished by the group
No way to recoup
Heart fills with fear
What a toxic atmosphere
Arms that open wide – absolution
Joy to despair
No long a pair
What did I do wrong?
I no longer belong
Nothing can help – desolation
Wheeled chair in rain
Limbs racked with pain
Too late to complain
Radiance above – liberation
© Lalla Barden 19 Feb 2020
Bushfire New Year
but no tobacco
scarlet king parrot’s
reminders of the dark day.
Blood red sun
by glowing orange
on a beach
scanning the sky
for promised wind change
past flame-licked verges
bleeding ash and embers.
Join the crowd
in the dark
more ways than one
but needing to share
rumours of tragedy
not all incorrect.
The world mourns
a lost generation
of unique fauna
but soon hints
as the flora
© Rosemary Patyus 4Mar2020
And through her misshapen form the wind sighs;
Stripped bare of her finery, twisted and worn
A stark lonely shape against the grey dawn
© Margaret Armstrong Feb2020
Scorched – Clyde Mountain
Scorched, silent sentinels stand.
Stoic, stunned, submitting their sap,
Surrendering their souls
To the searing shooting stars of fire.
Now stripped of life’s desire,
Collateral damage in cataclysmic ire.
Black, burnt, beheaded,
Beaten, blazed, betrayed,
Our once flourishing forests,
Fauna, and faithful firefighters
Now furiously flayed.
Waiting, wishing for the welcome Wet,
Our teardrops seeking, beseeching
The heavens to open, and relent,
With rejuvenating, refreshing rain
To restore the forests, the earth,
Our shattered hopes and lives again.
© Bonnie Atteridge Jan 2020
Midst the chaos of bushfires and evacuations there was another fear, another situation that continually teetered on the brink of being a medical emergency throughout this time and afterwards. It’s not a normal medical condition, there’s no diagnosis… just ‘extreme hypersensitivity to sounds and vibration’ causing throat muscles to swell, reducing breathing, increasing fatigue, and exacerbating chronic pain. But it’s not just the pain, the continual reactions, as well as some of the medications, plays havoc with my brain. My words slur, bits of words trail, sentences become muddled, and while I have found writing a way to restore cognitive abilities, it takes a lot of effort–too much at times–with no energy left to edit the way I would have done in the past.
Aircraft fly overhead, one to the south-west, another north-west, with barely a few minutes before they fly towards the river for another refill. The fires must be close, too close. Motors whirr, rotor-blades scream but I look into the reddened sky and murmur “thank you” to the courageous men and women and their machines trying to contain the fire-spread. Reaching for an inhaler again to persuade my swelling throat muscles and compromised breathing to settle; my body stings from sounds that aggravate my fragile state of health. More pills are taken, oils and creams to soothe, I know I can get through this–I have to! Another whirr cuts the air as a chopper carrying life-saving water flies overhead, but this time all I can manage is a weak smile. My noise-cancelling headphones clamped to my ears don’t shut out the noise and vibration thundering through my body.
Tears well, and I convince myself that they are more to release the pressure building up in my head rather than crying. What use is the latter, I know the sounds will continue and there’s no escape.
I focus on notifying family and friends of what’s happening with the fires, arrangements, reality, as well as glimmers of hope. A WIFI dongle is my only communication to the outside world–its connection is intermittent but a feeling of joy spreads as I inform others in our living room that another message has been sent to my son. I know he will Facebook post and ring key people to start the network going. The following day there’s a window of internet reception once again and I check my son and daughter’s postings, questions flood the comment section along with a few private messages. “Do you know about Mossy Point, Surf Beach, Tomakin, other villages and communities close by?”
“What about the retirement home?” asks another. Anxious friends, and friends of friends outside the south coast firestorm, having heard nothing for days, seek information. Not that I can say much but just talking about the evacuation centres, the community spirit of neighbours and strangers looking out for each other seems to reassure even though I can’t give specific answers as to whether their relatives and friends are safe.
Another alert, and this time with cars laden, elderly family and I depart for an evacuation centre. In the dead of night tripping over the only tuft of grass, albeit dead, in a paddock of dirt I end up in the local hospital Emergency Department. Relieved, the ambulance officers and hospital night staff seem to accept my fear of sounds, and reach for the non-beeping cuff to measure my blood pressure. In the morning, however, the Emergency waiting room fills and my fears are realised when a monitor starts beeping, my throat starts closing and it’s mistaken for a panic attack. I manage to get my inhaler from the clear pouch of medicines I carry with me, and with huge difficulty swallow tablets gagging on the water. My husband arrives from ‘firewatch’ to take me home, and on seeing him I feel sad that he looks tired and stressed but at the same time so relieved that I don’t have to worry about my symptoms being misinterpreted anymore.
Sanctuary, a warm cup of tea, and quiet and my shattered body is able to relax. I’m not sure for how long but it felt as though this blissful time seemed too short as my throat starts to seize and I struggle to breathe again. The sound, almost imperceptible through the cloying dense red smoke, signals another firetruck or emergency service vehicle in the distance. As they get closer sirens blare causing pain to rifle through my body, and now with broken bones in my foot and toes there’s a new source of sensitive nerves to jangle. The high-pitched squeals and whirring of rotor-blades overhead, together with monotonous low-pitched droning of aircraft become louder and I again resign myself to living a nightmare. Skin sensitive to pressure I surround my body with soft pillows to try and protect it from the firmness of the sofa. I ache to lie down and drift to sleep but lying down has been long forgotten if I still want to breathe. I feel the colour draining from my face.
I’d like to be comforted, for my pain to go away. But who am I to worry others when the unimaginable is happening all around? They can see my distress. Having witnessed my reactions to sounds many times over the past twelve years, I’m aware they feel helpless knowing they’re incapable of offering the type of relief I really need.
I try to downplay what’s happening but the grey pallor in my face is too obvious. I can’t stand because my legs seem to have been replaced by jelly. My spirit flags causing my body to slump as my sense of survival is threatened. The thought of all the sounds which affect me surfaces and I long for the world to cease replacing silent electronics with all manner of beeps, to make phone ringtones that aren’t so piercing, and for the plethora of leaf blowers, and other noise producing gardening equipment be banned or at least have silencers fitted. How I wish safety fittings on vehicles don’t produce sounds that can be heard through closed windows a block away–no sounds or vibrations of the type that continually set off a breathing and pain reaction. If only… and now this. But I must remain strong, I have to, who am I to want the aircraft to stop flying overhead and dropping its water on the inferno nearby?
I can’t control any of what’s happening outside, adrenaline’s running rife therefore rest is impossible so as in the past I take to writing. It doesn’t stop the pain, and I still struggle for air but it’s a distraction. Then a thought occurs to me–how would I write in my magazine column about coping with chronic pain and hypersensitivity in extreme conditions? Moreover, how can I write about coping if I can’t cope? My thought process gradually changes as I ponder how to not go under when hypersensitivities are being challenged, and for an extended period of time. Now with the bushfires I write notes, I think about strategies and how I can deal better with the sirens, the droning aircraft, the reaction next time. For unfortunately there will be a next time.
It’s now been two weeks since fires were on our doorstep and our home is safe. I haven’t coped very well, but at least I’ve survived. Oh no, once again I sense my energy draining, and muscles feel like they’re sagging, as my throat starts to close, and I struggle to breathe. Frantic to remember what to do, and quickly, I find my inhaler and take a couple of puffs but obviously not quick enough as the tablets feel stuck. It seems to take ages for the tablets to release and for air to feel as though it was making an effort to reach my lungs. What next? I think-talk to myself trying to reduce the ‘fight and flight’ response from flooding my body with even more of the chemicals that I react to–I can’t use an Epipen which is the usual device to use with an allergic reaction as it will only inject more of what my body is fighting against–I’m exhausted, skin stinging with pain racing through me finding new areas to stab. Sitting with my head back to allow an easier passage for air and the immediate urgency dissipating, I’m aware of a barely perceptible but unmistakable sound increasing to a roar as a water-bombing aircraft flies overhead. Obviously, the fires are still close.
As the sound of the aircraft fades into the distance, I eventually manage to bring another struggle for air and acute flare-up of chronic pain under better control. In the living room the television is on and I hear a news presenter talking about the heavy rains and hoping it brings an end to the fires, and the drought, along the east coast. Rain dances must have been successful I whisper to the air. However, my satisfied grin doesn’t remain for long when the news item finishes with “And the township of Moruya is now on flood alert”.
© Suzanne Newnham 2020 https://www.suzanne-newnham.com/books–articles.html
Extract from Oz is Burning, B-Cubed Press, 2020