“We’ve seen big fires but we’ve never really seen fires this big and this fast before.”

This is what my new friend, Macka, told me when I asked how the recent fires in East Gippsland compared to previous fire seasons. Macka has spent the last 30 years of his life fighting fires, both as a volunteer and a professional. He currently volunteers at the Country Fire Authority (CFA) in Johnsonville.
When I asked what motivates him to run towards a fire, when everyone else is running the away, he shrugs and says, “It’s just the Aussie way to get in and help someone else out”.

That sentiment was something we saw over and over again on our trip. We visited communities all the way from Bairnsdale to Mallacoota. At every stop along the way, we were welcomed with open arms. Communities that had lost so much couldn’t wait to share cups of tea and swap stories.

Seeing the devastation firsthand was something else. Driving through whole areas of charred forest, passing blackened road signs and driveways with no houses left at the end of them was confronting to say the least. I expected to see grief, loss and mourning but I really didn’t expect to see so much hope, happiness and camaraderie. I didn’t expect to listen to stories that made me laugh followed by stories that made me cry. I didn’t expect to meet people that would have such an impact on the way I thought about my life, and what I can contribute to others.

I think that Louise, who is a former mental health nurse and the wife of the CFA Ensay Captain, summed it up beautifully.

She told me that, “All of our communities are strong but quite isolated in a lot of ways. It’s opened up a dialogue about mental health and started a lot of conversations. Communities have really been able to pull together through this.”

At Orange Sky, we always say that the most important part of what we do isn’t providing clean clothes and warm showers, it’s the six orange chairs we bring to every shift. People can sit down, be part of a non-judgemental conversation and connect. The people we met on our community recovery trip were so grateful for the small gesture of clean uniforms, but they were far more grateful for the chance to share their experiences.

We travelled over 3,000 kilometres. We visited more than 15 communities and washed 50 loads of laundry. I think that the most important part of this trip wasn’t kilometres travelled, loads washed or shifts completed. It was something that can’t be measured with metrics; connection.

Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN/Charity ID: 85890622990 • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible as a Deductible Gift Recipient by the Australian Tax Office