Bushfires 2009

A selection of stories, articles and pictures...

Old Man Roo

This photo of OLD MAN ROO speaks for all of us who want things for our maligned and misunderstood kangaroos and all our unique wildlife the way they were, before the foes closed in~
it seems to symbolise how human's have impacted on our beautiful environment...

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THEY call him Old Man Roo. He has been a fixture of these parts for about three years. At least that's how long Michele Dodd has been bumping into him in the night on the way to feed the chooks on her St Andrews property.

There used to be plenty for Old Man Roo to eat around here but now he gets by on a daily hand-out of lucerne as the ashen mess around him stretches for kilometre after kilometre.

"It's a miracle he survived, really," Ms Dodd says. "When we came back, he happened to be at the water tank. I was quite stunned he had popped up and come back to where he had always lain."

But his survival is only one of the miracles in Ms Dodd's tale.

You wouldn't tell by looking at her, that this gentle-looking wisp of a woman summoned the courage to twice drive through the wall of flames. Nor would you surmise that her 16-year-old son Josh, a lanky, dreadlocked kid, as kind as his mum, had enough composure to grab wet towels for himself and his father as they fled their burning house and dived into a dam.

These are the tales Ms Dodd tells, matter-of-factly, on the drive up the winding Heidelberg-Kinglake Road, to where her home of 20 years once stood.

Look in front of you and there is a market hall, used during the fires as a makeshift morgue. Look to the left and there is blue-and-white chequered police tape - where Ms Dodd saw a motorcyclist lose his life. Look to the right and that is where a neighbour stopped her car as she fled the flames, to show her the way out.

Ms Dodd and her husband, Max Stephens, were getting ready to go to a birthday party at Eildon before their ordeal began. There was fire around the region, but it hadn't been heading their way.

"Then it got quite smoky. It looked like it was getting closer," Ms Dodd said. "I started to get a little bit nervous. All of a sudden the smoke became a fuzz-ball.

"I heard this noise, this roar, and I said to Max: 'What's that noise' and he didn't answer me, and in my heart I knew there must be a bushfire."

As flames raced towards their house, Ms Dodd threw her handbag and a box of photos in the car and, along with 13-year-old daughter Romy and their two dogs, bolted towards StAndrews.

A kilometre up the road, neighbour Greg stopped them and pointed them to the only way out, towards Kinglake. Ms Dodd spun around. In front of her was a wall of fire.

"I didn't hesitate, I knew I had to go through it, like it was life or death," Ms Dodd said.

"I never actually thought about the walls of death when I was going through those walls of fire. I just wanted to survive.

"We came away unscathed and I thought: 'Yeah, we can do this' ... And then we came to another wall of fire. I just kept going like the clappers."

Meanwhile, Mr Stephens and Josh were trying to save the house and a 125-year-old church on the property that Ms Dodd, a children's book illustrator, had converted into her studio.

"I had the knapsack and the nozzle on it came off," Mr Stephens said.

"I had containers of water but I was just outnumbered. When the flames started coming out of the bedroom windows, I went from 'defend' to a switch that says 'walk away now, that's it."

Mr Stephens ran outside. He and Josh first hid inside a car but soon realised they would have to follow their "plan of last resort" - hiding in the dam.

"Josh just got the wet towels out of the car. Without the towels ..." recalls Mr Stephens as his voice trails off.

This was the night when Josh the boy became a man, "just like that", his mother would later say.

As Josh and his father waited for the flames to pass, Ms Dodd pleaded with two firefighters at a Kinglake roadblock to send help to them. "I'm sorry, I've got no men, no trucks," one firefighter replied.

Down the road, at a pizza shop in Kinglake - which would burn down hours later - Ms Dodd managed to get through to her husband's mobile phone and learn he and Josh had survived.

"Then all of a sudden it came again, that awful fuzz-ball and that roaring sound. It was so frightening. I got in my car and just followed the other cars."

A woman appeared in the mayhem and directed everyone on the road to a potato farm on McMahon's Road.

It proved a sanctuary for 25 people, with three water tanks and a generator.

All night, they could hear the roar of the fire, trees falling and the bang of gas cylinders exploding. But they stayed safe.

Picking over the ashes at St Andrews for her pottery, a plate, a trowel - anything that will remind her of a cherished past, Ms Dodd says the family will return to their beloved bush. For now, they remain at a house on the outskirts of Melbourne they had been renovating before the fires hit.

But some parts of life, as they knew it, are slowly returning to normal.

Romy, a promising tennis player, has gone back to the court and got into the round of 16 at a tournament at the weekend. Josh will start school again today. Life goes on.

Looking over the hills as Old Man Roo settles into his afternoon rest spot under a singed but still towering gum tree, Ms Dodd smiles.

"It gives us a connection with how things were. He's part of this property and he's still here," she says.

"Things like that make you want to come back. Things will go on as they were. I'll bump into him in the night once I am feeding the chooks again."

 

WILDHAVEN SHELTER PERISHED - PLEASE HELP WITH YOUR DONATIONS

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 Stella Reid from Wildhaven Shelter

FIRES in Victoria and FLOODS in Queensland

As you already know the fires have savaged over 400 000 ha in Victoria and floods have affected nearly 60% of Queensland. The suffering of humans and non-humans is beyond words. While the whole nation braced itself and millions of dollars have generously been donated for human victims, it is not always the same when animals are concerned. There are many animal organisations which have sprung into action, but if you would like to directly support affected animals (cutting out the middle man) please read below...
 

Appeal to help a special wildlife shelter which went up in flames: Wildhaven in NE Victoria.

 
The shelter was run by Stella and Alan Reid. Very often we have received updates from Stella on life at Wildhaven. Wildhaven was a real haven - a safe, peaceful paradise for all creatures and especially for kangaroos.  As you know I am involved with animal protection and constantly receive emails about cruelty and acts of torment inflicted on non-humans by humans... ... but every time when I spotted Stella's email my face lit up as I knew that I was in for a beautiful treat. The affectionate images of tender kangaroos, usually embraced by gentle light, always had a soothing effect on my sore soul.   Here are some of them:

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And now...

 

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All animals under their care have perished in the flames (including domestic pets) and numerous kangaroos, wallabies and wombats who lived on their property and whom Stella cared for.....

You can help Wildhaven directly by the following methods:

Please donate generously
 
- by direct transfer - Bank details:
Stella Reid
Commonwealth Bank of Australia
BSB:        063 222
Account: 10262617
 
- by cheque - Postal Address
Stella and Alan Reid
c/o St Andrews Post Office
10 Caledonia Street,
St Andrews
Victoria 3761
Australia