It was an eerie feeling driving towards the township of Marysville last Sunday.
I went there with Sue, my colleague, to be part of a ‘Celebrating Marysville & Triangle’ program. We volunteered our services as facilitators with 50 other facilitators and worked with 300 townspeople affected by the recent bushfire. The themes covered on the day were ‘celebrating community’ and ‘what next’.
As I drove along Maroondah Highway on an early foggy morning, the countryside revealed many scarred trees, houses leveled to the ground by the fire with the occasional burnt brick chimney stack pointing to the sky, the only vertical structure remaining. Burnt and twisted bits of metal lay on the ground nearby.
And amongst this devastation were trees and houses spared the maelstrom of fire and noise that roared through the district on Black Saturday several weeks ago. There were also signs of rebirth as grass, plant life and flowers appeared across the fields and the forest.
I did not know what I expected to see in Marysville. A place I had visited many times. A renowned tourist spot that was a beautiful sanctuary from city life, surrounded by trees, bush, flowers, pristine water, cottages and houses.
We arrived early and decided to drive past the Marysville Bowls club house, where the event was to take place, and continue on towards the centre of town a couple of kilometres down the road.
I turned right at the roundabout and drove on.
There was a bakery still standing. I looked around and said to Sue, ‘I don’t know where I am.’ Then I realised I was driving down the main street.
A street that a few months ago was full of people leisurely wandering along the footpaths – intriguing and wonderful craft shops – a cafe where I bought a meat pie and scoffed it down because I was hungry.
A street where we stopped at a stall on the footpath and bought raffle tickets from some primary school students who were raising funds for their school.
A street that no longer exists.
I wonder if the people who live in Marysville and the surrounding communities will recover from the aftermath of that devastating fire.
Will they be able to deal with the many lives lost, the destruction of homes and businesses, rebuild their lives, recover the spirit of the old townships?
I don’t know for sure.
But after a day working with the townsfolk, I think they will.
Footnote: Marysville is located 93 kilometres east of Melbourne (Australia). The bush fire happened on 7th February (Saturday). At least 38 dead in the Marysville district.