This month sees the 30th anniversary of the Ash Wednesday bush fires. On the 16th of February to be exact. It must have been a school day. It was already hot and windy that morning, as we were rushed out of the pool.
Although we lived in Kalangadoo, my brothers and sisters went to school in Nangwarry, about 15 km away. I remember we were doing swimming lessons that morning at the Nangwarry pool when we were ordered out.
The next thing I can remember is being loaded on our usual school bus, our usual driver Mrs Cram, was taking us home, along with the rest of the Kalangadoo kids. Well we made it half way there. The daylight turned to night with the blackest soot surrounding the bus. I sat in the very front seat next to the driver, I could sense her worry as the bus struggled to function with the sooty air. I couldn't see a foot in front of the bus, it was so thick. She was worried the bus would stall and we would be stuck.
I don't remember being overly scared myself, I was worried. I was being extremely brave for a ten year old. A girl, a year younger than me cried, I remember trying to console her. I think she was worried for her family. A lot of the kids were getting upset at this point. I can remember it was hot, I was drinking a lot from my water bottle, probably out of nervousness more than anything. At that age I would have had no idea the seriousness of what was happening, how devastating a fire like this was capable of being.
Mrs Cram turned the bus around and we were taken to the Penola high school. At the time she had possibly saved our lives. I am not sure of the time frame, it could have already happened or was close to happening, on the other side of town, tragedy had struck Kalangadoo.
I cried in my pub squash reading this piece tonight. When I graduated primary school, I won the first Williams scholarship, in memory of John Williams' wife and kids. Such tragedy. The fire was so fierce and came so fast.
We were looked after in the library of the highschool, all I can really remember is being given fruit boxes and food from the school canteen. This is where I first saw the book "Where did I come from", I suppose they didn't have it in our catholic school library!
Mum and Dad came to pick us up in the early morning I think. It was dark when we drove home, all I could see was the purple and orange glow of burnt tree stumps, and I remember the smell.
When we got home our veranda had fallen down, with the wind I suppose, and I recall all us kids being concerned about the cat. Mum had a patch on her eye, she had got dust and soot in it and had been to the doctor. She must have been beside herself with worry, going through this and not knowing how her kids were coping, and not being able to get to us.
I can still see the burnt remains of the old Rogers mans house, just the chimney stood. A little further down the road, seeing dead bloated cows laying with their legs in the air, in the paddicks. They excavated mass graves and just pushed the cows in and covered them up.
I hope to never have to go through this again, to smell those smells, to see blackened smouldering trees on a sea of ashen ground and dead animals that had no where else to go. Just so devastating.