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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Healesville and the Yarra Valley

Our latest ITA weekend brought us to Healesville and the beautiful Yarra Valley for some sight seeing and visiting with good friends.

After a good night of food and catching up with friends, on Saturday morning we headed off to check out the Healesville Sanctuary (known for breeding animals native to Australia) with the kids while the rest of our group headed off to enjoy a wine tasting tour.

Australian pelicans
A well fed dingo
The kids agree that you can never pat too many wallabies!

One of the things that the Yarra Valley is best known for is it's wineries. This is where we met up with our group at the end of the afternoon. An extremely high end winery specializing in champagnes and sparkling wines. Amazing wines, spectacular views, terrible place for children! 

Domaine Chandon

One of the other exchange families lives up in Healesville, and when they arrived at their new home for the year found a 2-inch thick book on their kitchen table detailing how to either "defend" or "evacuate" their home in the event of a fire emergency. Yikes! As the weekend went on we learned about "Black Saturday" which occurred on September 7, 2009 when catastrophic bush fires spread through the hills destroying everything and everyone in their path. Healesville was saved by just 1/2 a kilometre when the winds changed direction.

We took a drive up the hill while we were there and were amazed at the regrowth that has occurred in just 5 years. The tree trunks are still black as tar, but all the branches are full of regrowth. And the ferns and grass are coming back with a vengeance despite the damage done by the fires. There are somethings you can't ignore though, like the smell of charred wood. It wasn't a particularly warm day, but as we drove up the windy road we could smell something hot. Thinking it was entirely possible that our little clown car was overheating, we stopped to check it out. Nope, not our car, just the smell of burnt trees on the wind. 

The stories are horrifying. The number of lives lost, incredible. The way they've rebuilt their lives, amazing. 

173 people died, 414 were injured. More than 2000 homes were lost and almost 8000 people were completely displaced. People saw their towns suddenly overtaken by flames after a simple change in wind direction. As others tried to make their way down the mountain to safety some would get caught in multiple care pile-ups caused by the poor visibility in the smoke, others were trapped as burning trees fell across the one roadway to safety. As I was looking through all the pictures on Google looking for one that showed the mad scramble to get down off the mountain and away from the danger, it dawned on me that there are no pictures, because none of those people survived. 

And we can't forget about the animals. Some must have escaped, others succumbed to thirst in the intense heat, and millions were incinerated in the incredibly high radiant heat. 

My short description can't possibly do justice to the people and the stories of that day. For more information simply search for "Black Saturday" and a number of resources will become available. 

What amazes me most is that people have come back. They've rebuilt their homes and they've started over, remembering and learning. 

**none of the Black Saturday pictures are mine. They all come from Google searches.

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