Golden sunshine heralded a new summer’s day, one seemingly like any other. And yet, perhaps the yellow sun served a warning, much like an amber traffic light, that danger lay ahead. In the aftermath, many recall feeling ill at ease, even from the early morn when the sky still remained clear and bright.
The children laughed and played in the swimming pool. The blue lining gave the water a refreshing and inviting hue. It was too hot to be anywhere else, unless you had air-conditioning. Gazing at the back yard, I felt disquieted by our surroundings—the dull yellow of dry grass and the brown-tipped leaves of sunburnt plants. It was too hot and too dry.
A gusty wind rose in the early afternoon. The sky grew hazy as smoke rolled in from faraway bush fires. The azure heavens were tarnished by a greyish-yellow cloud. The sun seemed to hang heavily in the sky, now a huge orange ball which seemed to glare angrily down at us. The unease grew. It was way too hot, dangerously dry and far too windy.
I opened the front door, or rather, the wind forced it open. As I stepped out onto the front veranda, it shocked me to see a pillar of thick, grey smoke billowing from somewhere behind the red and orange-tiled rooftops before me. I shuddered in fright to think this could happen so close to home, in the middle of suburbia. We are not even in a fire zone.
“That’s a house going up!” I cried, voicing my fears.
“Nah,” my hubby replied calmly. “It’s just the grass reserve behind the houses.”
But it was a house. Six houses actually. The wind caught the grass fire in a fierce gust and quickly drove it, relentlessly, towards the nearest homes. A raging, red wall of fire devoured the buildings in minutes, with barely any warning. The valiant firemen in their yellow uniforms did not have a chance to save them.
Black. The news began to filter through that night from all over the state. There were images of bright, orange flames engulfing the white trunks of gum trees and the dry, brown underbrush. We saw pictures of thick, black smoke, blocking out the sunlight. We gasped at the tales of whole mountain-dwelling communities, lost to the ravenous blaze in a horribly short space of time. Our hearts despaired at the vision of white, grief-stricken faces, still in shock. And then there were the stories of death—so many deaths—too many senseless deaths.
The black images on our screens infected our very souls with their dark and painful imprint. We cried. We cried for days. Bleak, grey hopelessness.
I drove past those houses in my neighbourhood the day after the inferno. There they stood; six black and brown carcasses of what were once happy homes. The cherry-red fire-trucks stood out in stark contrast against the burnt out remains.
But then...the people of Victoria rose up. Rows of green tents were erected on a football field to house families who’d lost everything. Ladies with pink lippy and compassionate smiles prepared food and handed it out. The Red Cross started to raise money to help the fire victims. Even my children gave up toys and clothes to help those in need. The bright, white light of hope found its voice again.
And now, almost a year later, the green is reappearing on the trees. Flowers bloom in pink, yellow, lilac and all the other colours of the rainbow. Life sprouts anew. Communities are physically being rebuilt, although stronger in spirit than before. They all survived that day; a day filled with many colours, and yet it is known as Black Saturday.
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