Text By Merran Guest
We loved Marysville, it was a little oasis of green set amid the dry Australian bush. Rainfall is high in Marysville, the ground is moist and plants grow readily. How could a bushfire happen here?
My husband & I first saw the block of land for sale on a day trip in October 2001 and fell in love with it. We purchased the land, built our home and moved in August 2003 four months after our honeymoon in Tuscany, Italy. This is where we bought the ceramic number 71 we have donated. The ceramic was very symbolic for us and we bought it as a memento of our trip and the extraordinary path we had travelled to get where we now found ourselves. We originally used our home in Marysville as our escape or “bolt hole” as my Mother called it. At that time in 2003 we both worked full time and would escape Friday afternoons, returning reluctantly Sunday evenings. After my husband retired and I moved to part time we stayed in Marysville longer preferring the serenity and calm of the bush to the hectic pace of the city where we have an apartment. Last year I finished work and we felt we were beginning to “merge” into permanents and would be there more than in the city. Many people describe Marysville as “a little piece of paradise” and it's hard to think of a better description.
On the day of February 7th 2009 we knew it would be a hot, windy, dangerous day however, despite the warning we had no idea of what was about to happen. Maybe we were naïve thinking Marysville would never succumb to fire, we knew all bush could burn, but Marysville, in our minds, was different. It was our oasis, how could this ever be destroyed? We didn't know about “fire storms”. All we knew was our fire plan was to evacuate. How thankful we are that we never contemplated a “stay & defend” policy. I often think of this when I contemplate what may have been. The other lives lost who stays to protect their property.
We left Marysville at lunch time that day to return to Melbourne for a party that night. Usually on hot days we closed the house up, lowered the blinds and turned on the fans and air conditioning. If we hadn't the party to attend that day we may not have even realized the extent of the danger that was looming towards us. That party may have saved our lives. Given the forecast we decided to head back to Melbourne earlier than planned to save turning on the air conditioning. We left at lunchtime on the Saturday and even retuned to town. After we had left and were 10 minutes out of town, we remembered we had forgotten to turn on our dishwasher. We went back and turned it on. We think now what a waste of time that was. On our return to Marysville, 6 weeks after the fire we found the dishwasher full of clean, broken dishes… no dirty dishes in my rubble!
The 6 week wait to return; agony. The grief, confusion and despair felt by ourselves and the whole community, everyone grappling with the enormity of the devastation and loss. We eventually returned to where our lovely home once stood. Nothing except a chimney. Nothing to salvage apart from a couple of garden ornaments. Miraculously the letterbox, a cheapie from Bunnings, survives intact, untouched. How does this happen? Whilst I have learnt more about fire and its behaviour and patterns than I ever thought possible, there is so much I don't understand. Why one house and not another, why our letterbox?
We are rebuilding, albeit a more “ember and radiant heat proof” home. Would this have made a difference on Saturday 7th February? My strong feeling is no, nothing anyone did would have made a difference. Man cannot defend against such a force of nature. What we now hope is that the Royal Commission looking at that day can assist communities, such as Marysville, in how to escape such an inferno if we are ever in that position again. God, I hope that day never happens.