As I hear about the flooding in Queensland I'm reminded it has been two years since the raging bushfires swept through Kinglake in Victoria destroying everything in their path. These catastrophic events are part of the Australian life but that doesn't make it any easier for those who are caught in the middle of the events losing family and friends and everything they own, including their treasured family history in the forms of photographs and mementoes.
Both of these events have seen me in tears as I watched the destruction happening before my eyes on the television. I can't begin to imagine what it must be like for the people who are experiencing every terrifying second that unfolds.
Last week we stayed in The Gum Trees Camping Area at Kinglake National Park, 65 kilometres north of Melbourne. It was a welcome break after the hectic pace of Christmas in Melbourne: a time to reflect on 2010 and what I'm expecting for 2011; and also time to think about the lives of the people who are still living in Kinglake two years on.
A walk down the main street of Kinglake showed me a close knit community brought together by life threatening events. Groups of people sat together in fellowship. The storekeepers were friendly and open to us strangers welcoming us into their community. I felt encouraged by these people who'd been through so much but could be so open and friendly to us.
Out of the town we drove along the quiet, eerie roads that had been devastated by the fire. Here we felt the oppression of lives lost and dreams that might have been. I couldn't stop the tears that rained down my face when I saw the letterboxes standing at the front of the properties that no longer held a house, and the precious lives that used to live within the homes. We drove this road for no more than a few minutes when I asked Frank to turn around. I couldn't take any more of the sadness that had crept upon my spirit. Some of the people had died and some had left to live elsewhere. Who could blame them when their past lives had been swept away from them?
Kinglake is a place of dreams damaged and dreams lost, but it's also a place of faith and hope for those who decided to stay and rebuild their lives. Hope can be seen in their faces, their new homes and the reaching out to strangers. I've decided the people of Kinglake, both those who decided to stay, and those who have moved on are courageous. Neither of these groups of people are right or wrong. They've made a choice based on their own abilities and talents, personal history and dreams. Well done to all of you!
In the forest, we saw the charred trunks of the trees standing like sentinels, a reminder of the destruction, but our hearts were filled with gladness when we saw the new growth emerging from the forest floor. Most of it was about a metre high and there was evidence of wombats and echidnas, and an increasing number of birds seemed to come in daily.
The bush was regenerating. The trunks of the burned trees had new shoots coming out of their blackened trunks seeking the food they need for survival. Soon the lower shoots will fall away as the trees become strong and lose their charred skins and grow new high branches that will give them the nourishment they need.
There is new life happening in Kinglake and the surrounding areas that were burned in February 2009. For the flooded areas of Central and Southern Queensland new shoots of hope will come for you, too. But first, I encourage you to allow yourself to feel the pain of your losses, and grieve for them, and when the time is right for you, take hold of all the courage you can muster and step out in faith. Soon hope will come to you, so that you, too, can dare to dream of a future again.