I’m ready for some fun! A warm Spring day arrives on cue, accompanied by sounds of the surf and the birds. What a year! Evacuations, floods, two lockdowns, job lost due to covid, kids at home for months (actually that was pretty special), and a community at multi levels of reconnecting. For joy, today I’m meeting a group of women, aged 40 to 75ish, and we’re venturing out on a dragon boat, setting off on Mallacoota’s lower lake this morning. We launch from Karbeethong Jetty and glide out into a vast expanse of water that ebbs and flows as it has for millennia. Paddling along, laughing and giggling, the covid safe group slowly finds its rhythm, rocking and splashing against a wind that’s pretty much in our faces. But paddling upstream is par for the course for we of Mallacoota this year. Out there with these women arises a childlike delight, no phone, no social media, no cameras, no worries. Suddenly I, we all, are feeling empowered, a part of a group of strong women, on the wild, yet desolate and tranquil lake. Paddle up, paddle in, lift up. I’m a world away from a year defined by trauma, with no one to advise me to be more resilient, not while I have this paddle in my hands, anyway, just the wind and waves to make me feel alive.
Christmas songs on the lake was my last voyage on this dragon boat, closing in on a year ago, when the approaching summer was a portentous threat to be dealt with as it arrived, when that threat could be foregone in a brilliant evening singing to all around the foreshore from our colourfully lit, floating gazebo. A riotous evening on the lake, voices raised and warbling Christmas carols as we paddled about in a sea of belly laughs, astonished campers watching on, (who, we all presumed, were delighted by our raucous performance). None of us were imagining that just a week later images of this very lake, strangely alive with glowing red smoked-out skies and drawn ochre coloured faces, would be beamed into lounge rooms around the world, a symbol of Australia on fire. ‘The fire’ raged towards us just a few days later, this lake was one of the places people were ready to jump into as a worst case.
Looking back now, I feel again that sense of foreboding in late December when ash from far away fires started to sprinkle down on me, my family, neighbours and friends, as I pottered in the garden.
For months, right back into winter, we had watched the east coast of Australia fight a series of burns as bushfires tore through millions of hectares – of bushland, homes and properties. News came that there were not enough “assets” to stop the lightning fire at the Wingan and a wind change was on the way – it was our turn.
We all knew what was coming, ………………….