Warning: Gratuitous reflection “dear diary” style post ahead.
I am honestly not sure where the last 4-5 weeks went.
This was a strange summer indeed (at least locally on the NSW South Coast). After a crackingly busy December for Precium I was feeling good but ready for a break. The bushfires stole the show and our local economy shut down for a while. People went into prepping mode, survival mode, escape mode, whatever mode was needed on the day. My planned 9 day Christmas break doubled in size accidentally.
At home we had some minor adventures of our own including several families impromptu stay at our home because of Highway closures, then some very ominous smoky days, and some very hot and windy ones where the risk was real. The community is where the pain is. People we know and care about have lost homes.
For me personally adrenaline kicked in and everything seemed totally fine, all the extra tasks, house prep, caring for others, volunteering at the local distribution centre, cooking without power or lights, it all just felt like an adventure in the moment, even though we knew the gravity of the situation.
At one point we needed to evacuate and stay with others too. (Thanks T&K). Our place was fine but the fires took a number of small acreage properties nearby and bushland to within several hundred metres.
The smoke was thick for weeks. Blackened landscapes abound. How do you walk a path through that? One step at a time I guess. I think it was Churchill who said “if you’re going through Hell, keep going”.
What happened next was connecting with others to hear their stories. Cups of tea and coffee with friends felt more significant. “How are you?” conversations in aisle 4 at the supermarket took a little longer. Hugs did too. Some friends lost homes. Others in our circles lost more than that.
Finally work swung back into gear. It was a relief to feel normal again. To talk to clients about client things. To research houses, to cast my mind outside the bushfire bubble we had been suspended in. To plan inspections and mini trips without worrying I may be stranded and not get home.
Once I had my first tasks lined up the drives north, and south, and west all happened in quick succession during the last fortnight.
I knew what I would see but I totally underestimated the delayed grief reaction that was coming. I felt waves of sadness as kilometre after kilometre of burnt country assaulted my eyes. Of course it was a large bushfire (I have seen 3 big ones before) but the spread is what overwhelmed me. On one day I drove for 90 minutes (highway speeds) and only saw a few short sections of green – relentless charcoal grey and black the rest of the time and the falling leaves some bizarre kind of Autumn scene.
It seemed quite relentless and despite being a fairly pragmatic logical sort of bloke I knew this was a unique moment in time.
I decided to just allow soul to just be fully present to what I saw.
At one point I pulled over next to a large hollow tree that had burnt out and come down, it was nearly 2m diameter at the bast, or conservatively 150-180 years old. That tree would have seen dozens of bushfires in it’s lifetime, and recovered after each one. Not this time – the #currowanfire was too damn hot. I just placed my hand on the trunk and cried. I never cried for a tree before. I don’t know if you believe in a creator, but at that moment I was quite sure I felt His pain.
Even in the week since then we have had more rain. The green flashes are getting more abundant. The Eucalypts are shooting. I knew it would come, thankfully the rain we have had has been well timed even if not a deluge (I know plenty of folk need more and some have had none).
What amazed me was the cycads – they have a reputation for slow growth – like 7-8cm per year. I saw Cycads with 20cm of new growth only weeks after the fire. Don’t ask me how that works, I am not a botanist. But it made me happy when I saw it.
Ferns, grasses, young trees and old were bursting forth with new life on the way home of my most recent drive. I made a deal with myself that I was only allowed to see green. It was amazing how much there was when you are fully tuned into it.
Nature is cool. But honestly the amazing part of all this, has been seeing “normal” people I know step and and help.
Like Dan and his son Jonah driving heavy machinery for free to the uninsured who lost homes, rebuilding their driveways and cleaning up building sites. Like Grant and Rebecca co-ordinating hundreds (probably thousands) of volunteers over several weeks at the distribution centre. Like Trent running a school whilst evacuated from his home, like Mark and Ben risking their lives to save someone else’s home. Like Archie’s mum and dad housing multiple families in their home. The kindness list is too long, but it is all astonishingly good. The stories from Currowan are being spoken about over coffee and beer, I imagine they will become the folklore of the coast for the next generation.
The heart swells to see how we can rise to a challenge. But being realistic, the recovery may be a little slower. A whiff of smoke still makes the heart skip a beat and the eyes to the sky and you know the wounds aren’t fully healed.
Even though we still have hot days (today hit 40 during inspections) local risk here on the coast seems to have passed for now (I hope: today our friends in Canberra had a State of Emergency Declared courtesy of the Namadgi Fire)
School just went back, the tourist trade is picking up a little, but the bulk of the holidays are over so volumes will likely be poor for those directly in the industry. The number of people still hurting is significant. Over time it will fade from the media (already has) but the pain is still very real and very present if you ask the right question and look another moment into people’s eyes.
For those of us in the broader property game it seems this will be a solid year ahead with plenty of metrics heading into green territory. The fresh green shoots in the property market like the pics above were already showing shortly after last year’s federal election. They are well and truly in place now.
Whilst some of my friends in tourist-based businesses are not so upbeat – I have a lot to be thankful for. A number of happy clients have recently settled on some great properties as I enjoy getting “back to business”. A great number of clients, agents, brokers and colleagues reached out to check on us. Thanks all.
I promise to talk more about real estate and be less self indulgent next month. Honestly it will be a pleasure to feel normal and switch the analytics back on. But in the mean-time, hug the ones you love and be thankful for the simple things.
If you are still going through a fire (literal or figurative) keep going, don’t stop. If you need help, ask.