Front-row to trauma

By Jade Glenn

I was a 20-year-old cadet for the Mail’s sister paper, the Pakenham Gazette, when I found myself in Healesville on 8 February 2009 covering the immediate aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires. The day before I had been laying low in my suburban house, blinds drawn against the blistering sun.

I knew about the fires because my mum, who lives in Healesville, had been fighting ember attacks at the property she worked at.

I was worried, but had no idea about the extent of it.

We had been covering the Bunyip Ridge Fire for a while – days? weeks? I don’t recall – and so fire seemed a summer companion, ebbing and flowing with the changing weather conditions.

I was born after Ash Wednesday. I had no idea. I was naive.

We woke on Sunday to the realisation that something catastrophic had happened.

Communities were irrevocably changed.

My editor Garry Howe called and asked what I was doing and I told him I was going to Healesville – I don’t know if that’s where he wanted me to go but that’s where I felt I needed to be.

I had lived in Healesville and Dixons Creek for years and wanted to know what had happened, and wanted to see my family.

Armed with a notepad and a camera, I drove up the mountain.

I spoke to several people, including current Yarra Ranges Citizen of the Year Lesley Porter, whose photo I took ended up being the front page of the next week’s paper.

I was young and I am sure my stories were pretty average.

I tried to report with sensitivity but don’t know if I achieved it.

There was nothing at university that prepared me for being front-row to people’s trauma – I suppose nothing really can.

Since then, I have read the Royal Commission report several times.

Each loss as devastating as the next; people going about their lives, doing ordinary things, killed in an instant of unimaginable terror.

I’m sure what is not in the report could fill several more volumes.

Black Saturday changed the fabric of many communities, and many people.

It changed government policies, and the way we respond to emergencies.

Fire will always be a reality in Victoria. Now I know it is a reality to never be underestimated.

If only there was another way for each generation to learn that lesson.

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