Hand On Heart, A Salute To Australian Resilience
Vivid golden-yellow is the colour that Melburnians chose to wear as the bushfires raged around this city, starting on 30 January and continuing to the present moment as the blazes continue.
Everywhere, people wear ribbons on their chests and yesterday the "Herald Sun", the city’s biggest-selling paper, distributed these wristbands as well, in conjunction with the state government. All the money raised goes to the Red Cross appeal.
Despite the deaths (more than 200) caused by the bushfires and the number of homes destroyed (more than 5000), I've chosen today to share stories of survival. Thanks to a report by Jamie Walker and Lauren Wilson in the broadsheet newspaper "The Australian", I can tell you about the courage of two of the oldest survivors .....
In the Strzelecki Ranges east of Melbourne, 97-year-old Charlie Richardson chose not to flee. He stayed to defend his property. When his home was destroyed, he took refuge in a horse trough.
He wrapped himself in a blanket and dived beneath the water, coming up periodically for whatever air he could breathe. Hours later, he was taken to hospital when rescue crews found him crawling toward the road, bravely waving a torch to flag down cars in the dark.
A Koornalla woman, believed to be about 80, turned down a offer of assistance from Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteer firefighters. She chose instead to stay and protect her home. "Don't worry about me, I'll be right. But thanks for coming,'' she said.
She had to save herself by running down to her dam, tying one end of a piece of rope around her wrist and the other to a fencepost before submerging herself in the muddy water. It would have been a huge physical challenge for anyone, but more so for this brave homeowner. She had recently had hip replacement surgery.
Then there were some amazing quotes from people who had been touched by tragedy ...
"I was on the farm when the fire came through and it was just too fast. I ran and jumped in the dam and pulled my shirt over my head and stayed there for an hour and a half until I could get out. I'm luckier than many because I still have my wife and others don't.'' - Neville Goulding, who celebrated his 37th birthday the night before the fire that destroyed his home.
"House blessing. Bless our home, our lives, our friends. With love that Lord on thee depends. Amen.'' - Noelene Pyle, laughing as she reads the words inscribed on a single plate, one of the few things left intact in the ash and twisted metal remaining in the wreckage of her Wandong home.
"The fire was like a jet engine coming through the trees'' - John Pyle (husband of Noelene Pyle) .
"There were children running down the streets with flames behind them, it was hell. I never want to go back to that place, never." - CFA firefighter John Munday, describing Marysville on Black Saturday.
"Sing it again!'' - An unknown member of the congregation at Rod Laver Arena after the haunting rendition of "I Am Australian" during the National Day of Mourning ceremony last Sunday.
"It doesn't have a single crack or anything.'' – Samantha Wilson, 19, clutching a ceramic model of the Disney character Pluto, a present from her grandmother. The souvenir was one of the only objects left intact after her parents were killed while trying to defend their Mudgegonga property.
"There was just no air, it was like you were breathing vapour.'' – Kinglake resident Jason Lynn, who used what he thought was his last breath to tell his wife and children he loved them, while he lay on the muddy banks of his dam. He kept his mobile phone pressed against his head to speak to his family as friends and his local minister Shane Lepp prayed for him and tried to keep him conscious. He survived.
"I could tell him by his big toe, because it looked like the only piece that wasn't burnt at the time.'' – Sherrill Carta, who thought her husband Bill was dead. They both suffered severe burns as they separately fled their burning property. Bill arrived at The Alfred hospital by helicopter and Sherrill by ambulance. In an incredible coincidence, each only realised the other was alive when they were reunited in the hospital’s burns unit.
''Until you taste it, breathe it, smell it and see the speed, you can never understand how terrifying a bushfire is.'' - Irene Passi, who lost her Buxton home while she helped save another property.
''She had four mobile phones strung around her neck and was answering them by turn while organising a sausage sizzle.'' - Anglican bishop Philip Huggins, describing the deputy manager of the Wandong recovery centre who doubles as a CFA group leader. Huggins led the post-fire prayers of reflection from the back of a truck during a service at Wandong football oval and said it was one of the spiritual highlights of his life.
''Faith doesn't explain everything, but it's a great consolation.'' - Father Vince Jewell, Marysville's visiting priest, whose church burned to the ground.
''I just thought, bugger it, I'm not going, I'm going to stay and try to save this place. We'd put too much into it to let it just go up in flames.'' - Greg Cherry, the owner and sole defender of the Crossways Historic Country Inn in Marysville. His determined resistance against the firestorm saw him acknowledged as the last man standing in the town.
''Listen kids, we can't get out. Our house is on fire. We are going to die in here. We love you, we love you. Please pray for us.'' - Phone call from Kinglake resident Bernie Hansell to his children. Hansell, a Vietnam veteran and retired federal police officer, drove along the burning Kinglake-Healesville road with his wife Jan – and miraculously beat the firestorm.
(Extra, extra, read all about it: I've been interviewed here. Thank you to all those who have already followed this link, commented and voted.)
Visit TNChick's Photo Hunt. Today's theme: "Thankful".