Sharon Halliday: Reflections
By Sharon Halliday is a Eurobodalla author, blogger and podcaster.
May I start with my sincere condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones in the NSW South Coast Bushfires. Our thoughts and prayers are with you in your darkest hours. As of today, there are 8 deaths and nearly 500 properties destroyed, with sections of our towns and villages completely decimated. These are not statistics, these are people's lives and livelihoods and shattered realities. To be honest, there really are no words that can accurately describe what myself and my community endured, and are still enduring, because of the NSW South Coast bushfires that raged on Tuesday 31st December, New Year's Eve 2019. When you see natural disasters on the television and on social media, your heart breaks for those people affected. Now it seems, it is the people of the South Coast whose hearts are breaking. It feels unreal and surreal. At a time when we usually see an influx of visitors to our seaside towns and villages, we saw a mass exodus unlike anything this country has ever experienced. Who would've thought that the sight of bread, eggs, milk and bags of ice would bring so much relief and joy, for in these desperate times it has represented another meal. At the moment, it is day to day. On Saturday the 4th of January, when conditions deteriorated and the threat loomed once again, it was hour by hour. On New Year's Eve, it was a case of minute by minute, as I tried to keep my mother and children safe while not worrying about my husband, our home, and all the people I love. I will never again take for granted the little things: the hot shower, the home cooked dinner of meat and three veg, and above all the people that make my life full and rich. This experience has taught me a number of lessons about humility, resilience, compassion, patience, surrender, detachment, gratitude, and even creativity. If you had've told me a few weeks ago that my kids would gobble up my BBQ'd nachos and French toast, I would have scoffed! But it is amazing what you can create with a few ingredients and little bit of ingenuity. It was my son's 10th birthday on Monday. It will be an occasion he will never forget for all the wrong reasons. There was no cake. Adding insult to injury, he had already seen his present when I had thrown it in the car unwrapped during the mad scramble to leave as the fires approached. Despite my best efforts his birthday was an underwhelming affair. I tell myself that for all the challenges we have experienced, my kids will receive character building life lessons that I alone could not impart. I look out my front door, the smoke ever-present, as it has been for many across our country, and I see a blackened carpet of burnt landscape where there was once dry grass. Further in the distance I see bushland with occasional plumes of smoke, the after effects of the fire which now leaves rubble for houses and a smouldering forest floor. Unfortunately, when I now see nature, I also see fuel. I'm not sure we will have a two-year supply of firewood on our property ever again! It seemed like a good idea at the time. Not too far from my back door, I can see where the fire taunted our fence. I can also see where the distance of an Olympic sized swimming pool is all that separates us from the closest house that didn't survive the inferno. It sits in ruins and is a constant reminder of that life-changing day, just over a week ago. Unfortunately, this is a story that could easily have been shared from any one of my neighbours. There are many right across our Shire and beyond who could tell the same tale of fiery close calls. At the time of writing this, my family, my neighbourhood of Surf Beach, and other parts of Batemans Bay, have been without power for 10 consecutive days. There appears to be no immediate reprieve in sight until extensive damage and complex issues with restoring power are resolved. For those who haven't experienced a power outage on this scale and for this length of time, it probably seems hard to fathom. And for good reason. Despite all of the technological advancement the world has seen, it seems primitive in this day and age that this can even happen. Those computers we walk around with in our pockets became about as useful as paperweights for most of this week, with no service, no Internet access, no power and a reluctance to charge in cars...and use the very essential resource of petrol. At one stage I couldn't even call triple zero when some logs in a vacant lot near our house flared up on New Year's Day! I can't help but think that our equipment, systems and processes no longer withstand emergencies like this, and unfortunately emergencies like this are no longer few and far between. They are happening more frequently and I would like to see positive changes and lessons learned, sooner rather than later, surely in my lifetime. As I hold a better vision for our world I cannot help but feel like a radical dreamer. I paint a gloomy picture because this is the reality. Even though the situation has eased and is not as dire as it was a few days ago, it is certainly taking its toll on people mentally, physically and emotionally. I suspect it is far from over with plenty of summer still to come. My glimmer of hope came yesterday when friends loaned us a generator, after realising we had been surviving on rations in an esky the size of about three shoe boxes, and a half bag of ice when we could get it. They also brought lamps, healthy food and other necessities to make life more comfortable while we ride out this disaster. But the biggest gift of all was friendship. Just knowing there were people nearby who cared and wanted to ease our burden when we were mindful of not taking help away from others who were worse off. Through all of this, the little things became big things and I found myself clinging to love, affection and friendship when I could get it. I want to thank the people I asked to pray for us at the height of the crisis around midday on New Year's Eve, when the sky changed to a hellish red, the smoke was choking, and visibility was so low that it was dangerous to drive, even though that felt like the best option. To anyone who messaged me and I was unable to respond because of no service or low battery, we are ok now. Thank you to everyone who sent thoughts and prayers, not just for us, but all those affected. I have had a few miraculous moments in the last week, and I have no doubt it was because of you. I owe a great deal of gratitude to my husband Steve, who spent five hours defending our home, mostly from the roof, with an abrasion on his eye that he sustained that morning when the black leaves and ash rained down. I am also forever grateful to the firies who descended on our street at just the right time and who saved people and property across our region. I will never be able to say thank you in person, but I hope each and ever one of you know how much of a difference you make. As does the agencies and the volunteers who do all they can to support people who are doing it tough. And let me tell you, there are a lot of those who are doing it tough. Everyone knows someone, or several someone's, who have lost their home, or who have been badly affected and displaced by these fires. There are countless others who are traumatised by this disaster. It might be some time before we see the full effects. There are people right now who are hurting; even the strong ones have their limits. Some people are still in shock, all of us are in a state of disbelief, and for the ones who have lost their homes and precious possessions, like one of my best mates, they are trying to piece together what's left and question where they go from here. Make no mistake, we cannot begin to recover yet, for we are still in the grips of a disaster. Power and basic essentials is a daily concern for many, even with roads reopening and supplies arriving. The sounds of sirens and choppers have subsided, but keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe, hydrated, fed, calm and pre-occupied is now what consumes us. To those who have already donated, from the celebrities to the men and women on the street, your generosity does not go unnoticed and it is very needed. You will hear a lot about the Australian spirit, as you so often do in these times. Right now that spirit is required to continue supporting communities and individuals who are hurting beyond measure. Yes, we may be a resilient bunch, and yes, we will rise again, but right now if you feel compelled to give and help, to reach out, to lend a hand or a shoulder to cry on, it is for good reason. These are not just your fellow Australians, these people are your loved ones, your friends and members of your community. The people that right now will have to receive with open arms if they are to give themselves a chance to get back on their feet."