IT’S six months since people around the south-west were left devastated by the St Patrick’s Day fires.
And while time may have moved on for those not directly affected, Corangamite Shire mayor Jo Beard said for many people the event was still raw and people continued to cope in different ways.
“Even though there is green grass around people are still very much reminded of what occurred six months ago in so many ways,” she said. “I know and I’m fully aware and our team is fully aware that that first hot windy day that we get will be a significant day... for people across Corangamite and our neighbouring shires and that is something that we’re aware of along with other agencies. We’re coming into that time of year where we start getting prepared again and it feels like we’re still coming out of what’s just happened.”
For Elingamite’s Vicki Angus and her family, who lost their home in the fires, it has been difficult to know how best to move forward. The Camperdown College vice-principal said the six months since the fires had been a “long six months”.
“We’ve been displaced from our home and our immediate community and it’s taken a while to come to terms with the devastation, and come to terms with having to rebuild everything you’ve worked so hard to create,” she said. “And just knowing where to start to work your way through it.” But with the recent approval of a planning permit Ms Angus said she was beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
Family won’t let the fires define them
WHEN the St Patrick’s Day fires devastated one Elingamite property, the tight-knit family who called it home made a promise to each other.
Vicki Angus, her husband and four children, lost their home of 20 years and since the fires having been living in Camperdown.
“We’re a close family and we made a pact that this wouldn’t define us,” she said.
“That we would move on.
“That’s not saying there hasn’t been some really sad times and the sad times are not for those things that you can replace.
“They’re for the irreplaceable things that you’re reminded of like home videos, photographs or my grandfather’s war history.
“Just things like that that you’ll never replace.
“There has been a element of grieving for those sorts of things probably more so from me than the kids.”
Last Friday the family’s planning permit to rebuild their home was approved by Corangamite Shire and Ms Angus said having that paperwork go through had brought some relief.
“I actually feel like now we’ve made all the decisions that we have had to make there’s absolute light,” she said.
“You just feel like you’re moving.
“Whereas probably for three months while you were working out what you were doing and going from not thinking about building to then having to think about it and make decisions about numerous things, it’s all pretty taxing.
“Once we’ve ticked everything off and now that the permit’s approved, you just feel that there’s a real light at the end of the tunnel and with the weather turning and the land drying out you do feel like things are moving forward.
“It’s amazing how the landscapes changed as well because around us all the shelter belts have gone so it has become windy and water has been flowing where it didn’t normally flow because the trees obviously sucked the water up.
“So the landscape has changed as well and I think everyone would notice that down our road.
“It’s very exposed now with all the trees gone.”
Ms Angus said support from the community had helped her and her family slowly move forward, particularly the staff, students and wider school community at Camperdwon College.
“I couldn’t speak more highly, we’ve been absolutely overwhelmed and very humbled by the level of support that we’ve had from all areas, from the Camperdown and Cobden communities and beyond we’re just amazed,” she said.
“You’ve got to move forward and that’s all there is about it.
“But the moving forward part has been made so much easier by the level of support that we’ve had, it’s just been amazing.”
For Gazette’s Nick Moyle there has been progress on his farm but there is no doubt the fires an additional workload.
A house on the property was destroyed in the fires and Mr Moyle said work was under way to get the house rebuilt.
“We have most of our fences up,” he said.
“I think we’ve done about 19 kilometres of fencing which has been repaired or replaced and we have engaged a builder to rebuild our house and also we are in the process of getting quotes to replace our hay shed.”
Mr Moyle said a fencing contractor had done a fantastic job, along with friends and volunteers from Blaze Aid.
“It’s been very nice to get a start on the season and start growing some grass again because we lost about 1200 big squares in the fires. So we were desperately short of feed.
“We’ve actually re-sown 1100 acres of pasture to get our perennials back up and going as quickly as we can.
“We lost about 150 sheep and we lost 13 calves. We’ve still got plenty to do.
“We’ve got to sort out our insurance claims and some of what we lost wasn’t insured so we have to get a plan to get that back in order as well.”
Mr Moyle praised the support the family had received from the CFA, the Red Cross and the wider community.
On the night of the fire, the property was hosting a wedding with the flames coming in 100 metres of the celebrations. The guests were evacuated and the family stayed to fight the fire.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.