Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Nation In Deep Mourning

Victoria Reels After The Weekend Of Armageddon

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON


From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of you who asked if my family is safe. Yes, we are. I have been deeply touched by the scores of emails and comments asking about our safety. As far as possible I have replied personally to every single query. If I missed anyone, my apologies ... but please pray for those who have been hard hit by the fires.

Just to give you an update, this is the worst natural disaster in modern Australian history. No question about it. The previous watersheds were the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983 and, prior to that, Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974. These pointers are a summary of what has happened since the blazes broke out on Saturday afternoon ....
  • 173 dead, the worst bushfire toll in Australia’s history
  • 750 homes destroyed and thousands homeless
  • At least four children, possibly more, among the dead
  • Hundreds of refugees flock to Red Cross centres
  • Two towns obliterated, Marysville declared a crime scene
  • Eyewitnesses use a common description: "Armageddon"
  • Alfred Hospital, major trauma centre, runs out of morphine
  • Fires still burning out of control, despite cooler weather
  • Authorities warn some fires could take weeks to contain
  • News Limited donates $1 million to Bushfire Appeal

Sometimes you see a familiar face when you don't want to. During Sunday night's television coverage of the Black Saturday bushfires, we caught a brief but unmistakable glimpse of someone who recently befriended us.

We met because of his easy humour and his wide grin - and both those sterling qualities were strongly in evidence during his dramatic moments on the nation's television screens.

In July last year, I had just flown into Langkawi, Malaysia, with my family and we were at a resort pool when a big, burly bloke slipped off his perch in the pool bar. He came back up again none the worse for wear, but announced loudly to his wife: "That's the first time I've ever fallen off a bloody bar stool and not hurt myself''.

He had a huge grin on his face.

I spluttered with laughter.

"Fair dinkum, mate,'' he announced, looking in my direction and extending an introductory handshake. "I could get used to this.'' His name was Steve and he introduced me to his wife nearby.

He had a huge grin on his face.

In the space of the next few minutes, we realised that we shared a common link. He was from Melbourne too - and we exchanged notes about just how cold the Victorian capital was when we flew out.

A few minutes later, I excused myself, saying I had to go to the airport, just a few minutes' drive away.

"Airport?'' he asked, "didn't you just get here?''

I nodded. But I explained I was going to collect my mother-in-law, who was flying in from Singapore to spend a few days with us.

He was incredulous. "Mother-in-law? Mate, you're a better bloody man than I am.''

He had a huge grin on his face.

Every time our paths crossed in the resort, Steve would greet us warmly and tell us what a great time they were having in the tropical heat, so far away from the winter frost of Melbourne. When we bumped into each other in the town centre, he would tell us where the best bargains were to be had.

He had a huge grin on his face.

Late on Sunday night, we were about to switch off the television when we saw a familiar face and heard a distinctive voice. It was Steve. He and his family had lost everything they owned. A cellar had saved their lives as the firestorm passed over them.

They had lost everything. But he told the TV interviewer that they were still alive, so they would probably crack open a good bottle of wine to celebrate.

He must have been distraught. He must have been in shock. He and his wife and their kids were probably struggling with their emotions, with the heat, with the fatigue and with the realisation that they had survived Victoria's most deadly bushfires.

But he still had a grin on his face. This time, however, it was only a wry grin.


Visit the creative team behind That's MyWorld Tuesday.


80 comments:

Babooshka said...

I am not one for the Commonwealth but I this occasion I hope our UK Government acts quickly to render financial, emotional and physical support to you all there. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone could have deliberately started some of these fires. Stay as safe as you can.

Betsy said...

I'm so sorry! I have been wondering how your family was. So sorry for your friend Steve, too!

tardevil said...

I immediately thought of you & my other Australian blogging friend when I heard about the fires. I'm glad you and your family are safe. I'm sorry for your friend Steve though, but I'm also glad they survived...even if they did lose everything. Be safe!

Artist Unplugged said...

David, thanks SO MUCH for letting us know how you are. Such a horrible situation just to hear about, I can't imagine the hot hell that it is for those families affected. Your post about your friend today IS a post of the day. Praying for you and your country.Stay safe and try to keep us informed.

Barbaloot said...

I'm glad to hear your family is okay...but I'm sure everyone there knows someone who's been hurt somehow as a result of this disaster. I hope your nation can soon begin the healing process.

lime said...

i was just coming over to ask if everyone in your world was well and safe. what a horrible tragedy. i am glad you all have been spared and so sorry to hear of your new friend's losses though glad it was only material possessions which were lost.

Stesha said...

David, happy to hear that you are okay. So sorry to hear about those that lost their lives. I hope that your goverment has measures in place to help those that lost everything.


Hugs and Mocha,
Stesha

i beati said...

This is so overwhelming to me - to read it is now a crime scene, and to see the horror of it all

to think of the lives changed- wildlife gone- environment ruined etc.

Stay strong Aussies - the world prays for you !!

French Fancy said...

Thank goodness you are safe but how how terrible for everyone caught up in this dreadful situation. I do so hope they catch the people behind the original murderous act.

What a shame you saw your friend on tv in such dire circumstances.His attitude sounds admirable but what a shock it must be for him and for everyone else that has lost their home.

RiverPoet said...

Oh, I'm so sorry for the losses your area has suffered. May God be with them all, especially Steve, as he and his family attempt to pick up the pieces.

D

Carolina said...

It's good to hear that you and your family are still safe. So sorry for all who have lost loved ones or their homes. So sorry for all animals that are affected. So sorry. Hope everything will calm down soon. Stay safe and our thoughts are with you all.

GoneBackSouth said...

Best wishes to you, your family, friends and neighbours. It sounds like a horrible time, and our thoughts are with you.

Moannie said...

Thank you for that moving update, David. We have been watching the news with horror and sadness, made worse by the news that it was thought to have been started deliberately.

cheshire wife said...

So pleased to learn that you are safe and well. Your fellow holiday maker is luckily alive. Please keep us posted on progress as news on the other side of the world can be vague.

Kim said...

I am so glad to hear you and your family are all safe and well after this devastation. It sounds as though you are seeing the strength of your countrypeople right now. I wish for you to be surrounded by the people of the world as you attempt to rebuild your community and your lives.

I send you a lot of positive energy from the United States.

Suldog said...

I'm so sorry about all of this, David. Every time I see something on the news, I think of you and yours.

Merisi said...

Such a horrible tragedy. I kept returning to your blog to assure myself that your family was alright.

Steve and his family were truly lucky, surviving a fire passing over them. The flames could have easily consumed all the oxygen.

Life is so very very fragile and precious.

Daryl said...

So sorry for Steve and his family, hopefully they will have family/friends to help bring back his full grin/smile...

And SOOOOOOOOOOOO happy that you and the whole Authorblog family are safe.

Keeping good thoughts for everyone going though this horrific catastrophe

Busy Bee Suz said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. Thoughts and prayers to all who are in danger...have been in danger and are yet to be in danger.
take care,
suz

Kat said...

I've been hoping you are okay. So glad to hear you and your family are all safe. Thank you for the update.
So sorry to hear of your friend's loss, but glad his family is all well.

Stay safe.
Prayers for you and all Aussies.

Tessa said...

I've been reading all your posts regarding this horrendous tragedy and the relief when I see Authorblog come up on my 'dashboard' is almost overwhelming. I'm so, so sorry that you, your family, your friends and the people of Australia have suffered so very dreadfully in this terrifying disaster. Bless you, David, for keeping us informed from the very heart of this horror. And, please, if love is a healing aid, take ours. My thoughts and prayers go out to those who have had to bear this awful catastrophe.

jinksy said...

A poignant post. All power to those who remain able to smile, wryly or not.

Queen-Size funny bone said...

Prayers to all who are suffering and need comfort.

The Egel Nest said...

This is just awful David...My mom and I have been worrying for you and your family and friends...

Thanks for the email!

Bradley
The Egel Nest

Jules~ said...

David, I am so very sorry for all of the tragedy and devistation. It is heart wrenching.
Praise God your friend and his family were okay. I too am sure they were in shock but boy does he have a handle on things. No matter how bad things are in any situation, if we can find an ounce of good then it is a beginning to moving forward.
Thank you so much for letting us know how you and your family are doing. Blessings to you.

Anna said...

I'm glad to hear that you and your family are OK, David. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Steve and his family, and everyone else who has been affected by these fires. It's so hard to believe that someone could have started some of this devastation on purpose!

mielikki said...

glad to know that you are okay. As most of California burnt down this summer (or at least that's what it felt like) I can kind of sympathize. I think your brushfires are on a much larger magnitude, though. My thoughts and prayers are with Australia right now

A Woman Of No Importance said...

David, thinking of you, and yours and your lovely fair dinkum mate - Thank you for keeping us abreast of the horrifying news - Thoughts and good wishes are winging their way to you all - Love and light, and rain, if at all possible x

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

So glad you and your family are safe. The images we are seeing only give us a hint of what is happening..but the numbers of deaths, injury and homeless are horrific.
Thinking of you all over there.

quilly said...

I did not ask about your family. Since you kept posting, I knew you must be safe. I did however offer prayers for those in harms way. Here, the news never lead us to believe it was quite so bad. I am shocked, usually such things are exaggerated.

My prayers continue for those most sorely effected.

Akelamalu said...

I presumed as you were still posting you were all OK but I'm glad to see you write that you are.

I've watched the reports on TV about the fires - it's just terrible. I hope things get better soon. x

Daisy said...

Truly terrible, thank goodness your friend was safe in his cellar- it doesn't bear thinking about. Know that we on the other side of the world are thinking of you and all caught up in this terrible time- all the best, Daisy.

Maggie May said...

I am at a loss for words. I have listened to the news on the radio and I have watched the horror on TV.
I feel numb that so many died such a terrible death.
If they ever catch the low life who deliberately set these fires off then I hate to think what the public will do to them. Mass murderers.

So glad Steve and family are safe. Hope you have got a good cellar too or at least one lined up for emergencies.
I personally feel I would get out long before the fire and hope that being alive together was more important than a home, though I can understand the ones who try and stop their property burning.

Hope there will not be any further fires and that there will be some rain soon. Keep safe.

aims said...

Gosh David. You and yours have been in my thoughts continuously.

So very glad all of yours are safe - and glad that your friend survived.

What horror!

My heart aches for those who have lost so much. The question always seems to be - why?

Twisted Fencepost said...

I am glad you and your family are safe!
This is a terrible thing and to find out it was deliberate makes it worse.
I will keep you and your homeland in my prayers.

Mediterranean kiwi said...

we have seen it on our television news reports, and i am horrified byt it. i'm glad to hear you and your family are all right - everything else can be remade (as we say in greek)

Mel said...

Keeping everyone in our prayers...

Charles Gramlich said...

I just heard about how bad these fires were this morning. Unbelievable how many people died. Very sad and tragic. I feel for the familys. I'm glad you and yours are safe.

Cheffie-Mom said...

Thank you for keeping us posted. I'm so glad you and your family are safe. Hugs.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

David, we are all so concerned about you! I hope you stay safe. Let us know if you and your family need to escape to the States to stay for a bit.

Sheila

Cheffie-Mom said...

Thank you for keeping us posted. I'm so glad you and your family are safe. Hugs.

GreenJello said...

I'm glad you and your family are safe, as well as Steve and his family. His most important possessions were saved.

aims said...

David - have just come from reading the latest google news on the fires.

I read the horror with my hand across my mouth - thinking of the terror these people must have been in as they tried to flee.

The mind-searing horror of those people who found the charred bodies once the fire had passed - and the unending nightmares the survivors will take with them.

If this is indeed the work of arsonists - there aren't any words to cover that are there?

Thinking of you and yours and all the others my friend -

theArthurClan said...

I was at a conference all weekend and had no idea this all was going on. So relieved to hear that you and your family are fine! Thinking of those that this awful tragedy has affected.

Janie said...

I admire anyone who can produce even a wry grin after such a disaster.
I've thought about you whenever I see the news about the fires. Good to find that you and your family are safe, and so sad that so many others are not.

Guy D said...

My deepest condolences to david and everyone is Australia, this is sad news indeed. Our prayers are with you.

Guy
Regina In Pictures

Bee said...

Terrible, sad news. It just goes to show that acts of cruelty/stupidity set off unforeseen chain reactions . . . but then so do acts of kindness and love.

I'm glad that your family is okay -- and that Steve survived with grin intact, even if it was a "wry" one.

Sylvia K said...

I am so glad you and your family are okay. I have numerous blogging friends from Australia and it has been such a reliev to know that they have all faired well enough. It has been frightening just to follow, let alone be there. My thoughts and good wishes continue to be with you and your family and friends. Sorry for Steve.

antigoni said...

My sympathy to those who lost someone beloved or their homes.
I have an aunt living in Australia and i'm very worried about her and the rest of the family. I hope they are OK.

Digital Polaroids said...

I just don't kow what to say... I hope Australia (a country I love) recovers as soon as possible from this.

Cathy said...

Hello David
Thank you for posting about the horrendous week we have suffered here in Victoria, and closer to home in Melbourne
Kinglake gone- Marysville gone - and now this morning friends of ours are moving out of Healesville. Its decending on them down the back of the National Park close to Don Road near to where they live
Evis flew over our place again this morning on his way to help them out
Take care
Cathy

imac said...

I nominate this post for your post of the day David.

A very heartfelt post about the fires over there.Also the fantastic tale of a new friend and then his great loss, with putting on a brave face with his grin.

So glad you and your family are ok, and thanks for the update of this dreadful terror.

Lew said...

Glad you are okay. The news here last night indicated lots of deaths, but did not identify the specific areas affected. My condolences to those who lost loved ones and homes. Steve sounds like the epitome of an "Aussie".

mountain.mama said...

Just have to add my prayers for your continued safety and sympathy for all the loss in your community. It's a sobering experience to live through such an event. I hope they can get it under control soon and find and prosecute those who so maliciously started that fire.

rsobczak said...

Your story is front page headlines around the world. Everyone is tuning in sending their thoughts and relief your way.

CrazyCath said...

I am glued to the news channels praying for all of you down there to have no further heartache and loss. It is just devastating to watch on my screen - I cannot imagine what it is like to be there.
I am really glad your friend and his family are alive and got out. My son's aunt and family live around where you are (just outside Melbourne but don't ask me where...) so I am presuming they are ok (I think his father would let us know).

Like everyone here, just thinking of you and other Australians. Stay safe all of you.

Susie of Arabia said...

It's even worse when tragedies like this strike so close to home. I do hope Steve and his family can pick up the pieces - it's so difficult to start all over again. But he sounds like he has a great attitude and he will succeed. Thanks for telling us Steve's story. And so glad you and yours are safe.

fishing guy said...

David: I'm so glad to hear you came through this disaster with no harm. what an interesting story you wove with Steve,

VALKYRIEN said...

I'm glad to hear you and your family is safe! And so sad for your friend. The story you told about him and his familys experience touched med deeply.
Take care!

becky aka theRAV said...

I am so sorry to hear this sad news, David, but this is an amazing story about this man you met. I wanted to tell you I took a page from your humor again with my Odd SHot and had a bit of good news to share but it seems sort of insignificant compared to this. Glad your family is ok.

Brit' Gal Sarah said...

Wow David, having a personal angle really brings it home what an awful tragedy this has become. I am so sorry about Steve and his family, but grateful they were all spared. I have been watching the pictures with horror and sadness. Our prayers are with your country at this time.

Hilary said...

I know that as long as you keep posting (and presumably not auto-posting) that all is ok with you. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. The loss your way is so incredibly vast. Sending best thoughtsand hoping that all will settle soon.

Lee said...

Situations like this are such a tragedy, not only in loss of lives but also loss of the beauty God put into this world. Prayers ascending for your friends, family, country, and all those it affects.

Peace! & Hope!

Brooke said...

So glad to hear that you and your family are safe. What a tragedy. My thoughts and prayers go out to the thousands and thousands of people affected by this.

Jazz said...

Damn. I have nothing to say. It's rare I can't find words...

I'm ever so sorry.

Leslie: said...

I have been watching the news every day worrying about you and your family, but glad to hear you're okay. But what a terrible tragedy for so many!

btw - feeling a bit better now.

lmerie said...

I have thought of you and your family much since the news hit. I am so glad you are safe and well. So sorry for your fellow country men. I know this is heartbreaking to watch so close to home.
Be Safe!

Woman in a Window said...

Oh David, that's one hell of a story. I wish you hadn't the occasion to tell it. I've been worrying about you. I glad you're safe. I wish everyone were as lucky.

Chris Stone said...

Just saw your comment on Random Lunacy and saw that you are Austrailian... so sorry about the fires! Can't believe the number dead. The story about Steve is a great one.

Poutalicious said...

It's amazing he was able to muster a wry smile. Steve sounds like an incredible human being. I cannot imagine how hot it must have gotten in his cellar. Scary.

Meredith Teagarden(The Things we Carried) said...

I am so sorry to read of all that is happening in Australia with the fires. My gosh. Devastating. I will remember your beautiful country in my prayers and the man you spoke of especially...

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

I thank God that your family and many others are still safe, and mourn with you that so many have perished or suffered the loss of their homes and possessions. I will continue to keep all of you in my prayers.

Indrani said...

I was following the disaster in newspapers and TV, but it is so different when somebody of your own is caught in this kind of tragedy. I hope your friend Steve and all those who are affected tides over this difficult time fast!
And what a character sketch with words... I could almost visualize him!

Jennifer H said...

My god, David. I'm sorry to have been out of this loop. So terrible about all of this. The damage, the loss of life, of property, is astounding. I hope you and your family continue to be safe, and I send good thoughts for some relief for your friend and his family, and for everyone else who is suffering. I can't come close to imagining how it must be for everyone.

You're in my thoughts.

Denise said...

The photos on the news have been horrifying. I am relieved that you and your family are safe, as well as your friend Steve and his loved ones. My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have suffered and lost family and friends in this tragedy.

Fireblossom said...

I have no words. My heart goes out to everyone in harm's way and to the rescuers, medical staff, and firefighters.

It made me wince a bit to see the OK! magazine on the rack next to the ones about the fire. Nothing can stop the puerile drip of celebrity "news."

Shrinky said...

The human spirit can often rise to meet disaster with grace and quiet determination, your friend Steve seems proof positive of that. Our hearts go out him, as well as to all the other victims at this dreadful time.

It is hard to imagine him belonging to the same species as to those sorry perprators of this evil crime.

I so hope aid and relief will be quick to arrive.

Caffienated Cowgirl said...

Was thinking of you last night while watching the news...and am so glad to hear that you are safe. It is a horrific tragedy...especially knowing that arson is involved. How can people be so evil?

TSannie said...

I can't believe how devastating the fires have been for all of you. My thoughts and prayers are with you. I certainly hope the worst is behind you.

Louise said...

What would the world be like without people like that. Very bleak, I think.

How horrible to see that on television. This whole thing has been horrible.