#authorsforfireys: ‘List of what to take when the fire arrives’ by Elanna Herbert
This summer was the worst fire season Australia has ever seen: 18 million hectares burned, 34 people killed, thousands displaced, and a billion animals estimated killed. Whether directly or indirectly affected, this has been a time of trauma for many. Now we face the aftermath, and the long, slow recovery.
Please scroll down to read a note from our editor.
List of what to take when the fire arrives*:
(cross out any which no longer apply)
Handbag, Wallet, Passport, Birth Certificate
Dad’s 1950s silver serviette holders from Kosciuszko shaped like skis
Dad’s 1947 football trophy ‘Best Utility Player, S.F.C—B Grade’
Mum’s silver sapphire engagement ring worn thin with age
Mum and Dad’s wedding album
Dad’s old photos of ancestors I never met
That photo of Mum at thirteen during the war with her hair back
Father-in-law’s war medals
My gold engagement ring (really?—do you still need this?—let the wedding ring burn)
The fire blanket
The P2 masks
The evacuation backpack
The dog’s evacuation bag (don’t forget her meds)
The King Parrot family raiding the veggie garden for green tomatoes
That spot on the wooden lounge room floor which makes the fibro wall creak when you step there on humid summer mornings
The day I first stood on the new redone deck (pack the memory, forget the cost)
Dad’s 8mm reels of 1960s home movies (these should have been copied to disc by now)
That day me and Dad first viewed the house (of all my memories of Dad why this one?)
The 1950s green glass light fitting in the end bedroom I found on an old shelf in the garage after we purchased the house
The smell of summer breakfast BBQs
from the front deck of the double story corner
(Coco the cat didn’t make it)
The widest view of the lake from the far corner of the deck
The smell of mozzie coils and white wine on the deck at night
The sounds of cattle bellowing from the paddock across the road The red cedar storybook cottage across from us which my eight year old daughter wanted to buy instead of our house
Bluey the Bluetongue Lizard
The dining room off the kitchen where Mum and Dad and the kids ate our first roast lamb dinner in this house
Skinky the tailless who lives under the back cement step
The Bower Bird family who raid the dog kibble bowl at dawn The Whip Bird calling The late night possum who eats fallen oranges in the back yard The Kookaburra family who wake too early in summer The back neighbours’ orange tree hanging overladen with fruit across my fence The sound of the back neighbours’ van arriving home in their driveway
The sunburnt children lying on mattresses on the blue bedroom floor (pack this memory too)
The 1960s blue mosaic toilet floor tiles that remind me of the ocean
The smell of rain when you stand on the back porch The small green valley in Valley Drive
The paintings from Bali and Kakadu (really? is tourist art important)
The gouges in the lounge/hallway/back bedroom in the Cypress Pine floor made by the kids/me/tenants/dragging furniture/stiletto heels
The gaps in the lounge room floorboards where light comes through when you open the garage door underneath the house
The view across from my kitchen sink window to the blue loft house The night sounds of fruit bats fighting in the nectarine tree of the blue loft house
The red cedar beams lined up in neat rows stepping along the hallway ceiling
The huge red cedar support beam in the lounge room wrapped in tinsel
My brand-new ceiling fans (bring the remote)
The communal mandarin tree in the front yard of the
abandoned house near the boat ramp
The left-hand neighbours’ orange tree
in the front yard of
their holiday house
The sound of distant surf from the front deck at night
The sounds of children playing in
of the grey house
The moon shining
on the white colour bond roof of the white house on the corner The flowering Jacaranda in the garden of the white house on the corner The Yellow Tail Black Cockatoos calling as they fly overhead to the pine trees of
the green roof house on the lake
The red bricks on
my front garden
steps with ‘Canberra C’wealth’ stamped on their face which Dad salvaged from a demolition job.
The Superb Fairy Wren family who flit across my front garden in
My newly painted hallway, two coats of ‘Sea Mist’, three days’ hard work
The mopoke owl calling late at night from the ridge behind the creek The comings and goings of the neighbours as they go
Whatever else you can fit in the car in 5 minutes.
Breathe. Remember to use the mask.
*Two days before the Currowan fire hit Conjola Park on New Year’s Eve, burning down eighty-nine homes and killing three people, I started a list of important things to take if I had to evacuate. I never finished the list. I stopped after only listing a few items. The most valuable things in my home were impossible to take.
Elanna Herbert was born and raised in Canberra. She has lived in Perth and the Shoalhaven district of rural New South Wales. Her writing has attracted a Katharine Susannah Prichard residency fellowship (2019) and a Writing in the Southern Tablelands mentorship from the South Coast Writers Centre (2000). In 2018, she was runner up for the Queensland Poetry Festival emerging older poets mentorship. Her poetry and short stories have received numerous commendations and awards, including the Marion Eldridge Award, which she won in 2001, as well as being published in Axon: Creative Explorations, FourW, Not Very Quite, Grieve 7, Meniscus, Australian Poetry Anthology and Westerly. Elanna’s first collection of short stories Frieda and the Cops (Ginninderra Press) was the runner up in the ACT Writing and Publishing Awards 2006 (fiction). Elanna has a PhD in Communication (UC).
A Note on the Series
In the wake of this year’s unprecedented bushfire season, incredible solidarity and compassion emerged across communities in response to the tragedy. In the writing and publishing sector, we saw the #authorsforfireys campaign, a massive online auction led by industry professionals all across Australia, raising funds to support bushfire charities. Westerly contributed our own auction items to this, and raised $981. Coming out of that moment, and the #authorsforfireys campaign as a whole, we wanted to make a space in our publication to acknowledge the experience of the fires and engage with some of the discussions which have circled around them. Westerly put out a call for submissions, with a pledge to both pay authors for their contributions and donate the equivalent amount to government-approved charities still working on the recovery.
Westerly is proud to present here one collection of writing from this campaign. A second feature of work related to the fires will appear in our next print issue. This series brings together bushfire writing of all kinds—from witness accounts to heartfelt immediate responses to considered critical thinking on the fires, including questions of climate change and the environmental future we face. They are works of fear, sadness and anger, but also of contemplation and hope.
We pay our respect to all the victims of the fires, and offer our condolences to their families.
Catherine Noske, editor
Image: David Brewster, 2009, under Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.