Peter Chambers wrote “I Survived Marysville for an Orgy of Ocker Self-Love” (Crikey, 19 February, item 4):
There was no ‘Australian spirit’ in Marysville on Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of very frightened, scared, confused people doing whatever they had to do to try to save their houses and their lives. Something horrendous happened there, something that’s difficult to comprehend, something that none of us, even the lucky ones, properly understand yet.
I was also in Marysville that Saturday afternoon. Like Peter, I was a visitor to the town, there with my three children, mother and step-father, who were down from NSW. How different my impressions were to Peter’s.
As we saw the smoke, lost power, and realisation that we were indeed in peril began to dawn, I noticed a car crushed under a large gum tree, felled by the strong winds. Surely no one is still in the car, I thought — then realised there was someone still inside.
By the time I reached the scene, a father and son were busy with a chain-saw, cutting up the tree and trying to get it off the car. Others were tossing aside branches. A woman frantically dialled 000 on her mobile phone, trying to get help for the woman trapped in the car. Another woman took charge of the two cats in boxes.
Evidently, the woman in the car had been in the process of evacuating with her cats. A teenage girl ran up the road to pound on the doors of several houses to find the elderly mother of the woman in the car, and make sure she was safe. I reached in the window of the mangled car to hold the hand and cradle the head of the woman, as her blood dripped through my fingers, and assure her we would not leave her until she was safely out.
By my side was local doctor Lachlan Fraser, who monitored the woman’s condition and encouraged me. He told us, “As soon as this is all over, we all need to get out of here.” He, however, stayed to defend his house, and was lucky to survive. He even saved his dogs. Another ER technician came up to render assistance.
A local SES crew arrived and discussed how they could extract the woman safely from the car. It was they who were able to contact the local ambos. After nearly 45 minutes of being trapped in her car, finally this well-known local woman was carefully lifted out on a spinal board, and loaded into an ambulance bound for Alexandra.
Within 15 minutes, many other, myself and my family included, were speeding along that road through the smoke — the only road out of Marysville still open. We left at 5:45 pm. The Herald Sun later reported that the firestorm hit at 6pm.
I only hope the people who were there helping the woman trapped in her car are all safe. To me they are symbolic of the many volunteers who have rallied to help in every conceivable way. The spirit that resides in such people, of such caring and courage, cannot be destroyed. In a town which commemorated the boys and men destroyed in Gallipoli and other conflagrations, the ANZAC spirit is alive and well. Marysville will rise again, the Gallipoli Memorial will be there once more — and a memorial to the courageous souls of 7 February, 2009.
I live in Warburton, not so far from Marysville. As soon as we are allowed to, I plan to return to Marysville and help out in any way they need.
Call it an orgy of voyeuristic emotional self-indulgence if you will, Peter. Some would call it neighbourliness and common sense.