Cate Tregellas has been in Mallacoota as the bushfires descended upon the town – burning 100 houses and forcing holidaymakers to evacuate via navy ships. But while we’ve seen the haunting images of people crowded onto the foreshore of the Victorian coastal town to escape the flames, we’re far less aware of the day-to-day reality when you’re caught up in a bushfire emergency. Here, Cate writes about the 13 things no one tells you about being in a bushfire.
1. Black snot
Every night for the past week, my last task before I blow out the candle and hit the pillow is to remove hard dry particles of the blackest of black snot from my nose so I can breathe freely overnight. Despite wearing the latest Mallacootian fashion accessory of a face mask all day, the stealthy little bastards of ash and dirt manage to inveigle their way past all barriers to lodge uninvited and unwanted in my nasal cavities. I never dreamt that in my fifth decade that I would (willingly) be picking my nose. Just don’t tell my Mum.
2. Black IS the new black
Black clothing is the choice of anyone who has to tackle the dispiriting, back-breaking task of cleaning up what is left of their home/shed/business/vehicle/paddock. There is no point wearing anything else, as it will be thoroughly black within a few minutes anyway. The antidote to this (for me anyway) is once I have had enough of sifting through superfine debris for the day, I change into the brightest, lightest coloured clothing, drag a brush through my stiff, ash encrusted hair, slap on some lippy and go into town to deliver more donated goods to the Community Refuge Evacuation Centre. I feel better, if even for a short while.
Watch: Celeste Barber’s mother-in-law on the devastating Eden bushfires. Post continues after video.
3. RSA or rapid skill acquisition
I have developed new skills that I never, ever thought I would have…such as breaking into houses. Despite having the absent owners’ permission to raid their pantries, closets, cupboards for anything they want to donate for the comfort of others they have never met, I feel that I will be sprung at any moment. I can see the headlines now: “School Council President and Copper’s Wife Arrested for Looting Fire Ravaged Homes”. In my defence, I have been emptying out the putrefying remains of each fridge and freezer as I go.
4. There are no alone moments
I can’t even go to the toilet alone – two of our dogs follow my every move from the moment I wake to the moment they can flop exhausted into our bed at night. We normally don’t allow any creatures (apart from our children) in the bed with us, but if it means they and we get some sleep, why not?
5. Don’t take goldfish on an overnight evacuation
When you pack four kids, three dogs, two cats, five guinea pigs, one rabbit and four goldfish into a car at a moment’s notice and high tail it down to the Main Wharf to spend the night with 4000 of your new best friends, don’t be surprised when everyone doesn’t survive. We scooped up our goldfish at the last minute (despite protestations that they would be more comfortable at home in their big cool spacious tank), but by early the next morning, they were all floaters. Whether it was the ash that mysteriously found its way into their container through closed car windows, or the fact that their water was suspiciously warmer than when we left home, they were gone. Yeah, you say, they were only fish – but we had one each and they all had names and we loved them.