It’s only 10 years

Tony Parisi on his Narbethong farm.

By Melissa Meehan

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years.

I was a very young journo facing the biggest story of the area, and my career, when I got the call on the Sunday following Black Saturday.

I was already on my way into the office, knowing full well senior journo Kath Gannaway was holidaying up north.

The blackened trees and smell of smoke are etched in my memory forever.

And so are the people.

In the days and weeks following the fires I was lucky enough to be invited into the homes and lives of people most affected by the blaze.

I travelled to Marysville, Narbethong, Steels Creek and Chum Creek and surrounds and learnt the true meaning of devastation.

Sally White and Steve Pierre Humbert allowed me onto their property a day after they huddled under a metal sheet in their underground wine cellar as the fire destroyed their home above.

Theirs was a true story of survival.

Tony Parisi in Narbethong told me of how the chestnut trees on his farm burst into flames and the only warning sign he and his family had was the roar of the fire screaming up the mountain.

As a young journalist with only a year of full-time work under my belt at the Healesville office – I really understood the importance of a local paper.

We had people calling asking if we knew whether people were alive, others called us to let us know they had survived.

I remember Ray Donkin coming into the office with only the clothes on his back to his name – just to let us know he was okay.

And so that we could let those community members worried about him know that he was safe.

We became a base for people to check in and a safe space for others to tell their tales.

Each was fascinating and individual and, above all else, very raw.

I remember a well-known firefighter coming in and telling us the devastation he saw in Marysville soon after the fires.

It was the stuff of nightmares.

I’ve touched base with some of those people I spoke with back then, and overwhelmingly they have moved on with their lives and don’t want much to do with anything that marks 10 years since the fires.

They shudder at the term anniversary or commemoration and are worried that the coverage by major networks will bring back dreadful memories.

And who can blame them?

Many people are still grieving and picking up the pieces.

So let’s acknowledge the devastation and celebrate the community spirit brought about by the blaze, but keep in mind that it’s been only 10 years.

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