I never really have understood the whole decade anniversary deal. I mean, is 10 years some sort of special cyclic period? Not that I know of, but for some reason, in society it is seen as a big thing.
A lot was going on in my life 10 years ago.
I was a year or so into a new job, that I was enjoying, I had met an amazing woman who was rocking my world like I thought would never be possible and I had started the ball rolling for my 20 year high school reunion. All things that were a positive signs that maybe the tide had turned and the years to follow would be on the up and up.
Well so I though.
The summer of 2008/2009 was a hot one, the country was in drought, and had been some time, 2009 was to be the hottest year on record in Australia. As the population struggled to keep cool and sane, the bush was drying out. We would get the occasional storm and downpour which seemed to do little more than spur on growth of anything that was still alive, let’s face it, plants love sun and water.
January was pretty normal in terms of proceedings, I’d even managed to get away early January for a short period for a bit of a break. Something I really hadn’t done at that time of year for a long, long time, but I’ll go more into that in the future.
It was heading to February, my dad had been doing well, yes, he lost a kidney to a tumour a few years earlier, but his health had been good, considering he was getting older, as we all do, and living with one kidney. Dad started having difficulty breathing one day. A visit to the family GP and he was sent straight off to hospital for tests. It was discovered that dad had a large buildup of fluid in his pleural cavity, pleural effusion.
Dad had a tube placed into his chest and the liquid was drained off. As a result tests we performed on this liquid, and it was determined that had had cancer. His prognosis was not good and his condition was deemed to be terminal. It was discovered that he had several tumours on and around his lung.
He started undergoing treatment, my nieces and nephew were still quite young at this time, and they were everything to dad, we wasn’t going without a fight, he wanted to be around for them for a long time to come, watching them grow up and helping them to become fine people.
After a number of weeks of treatment, dad went back to the hospital for more tests and a biopsy. I can still remember the look of elation on his and mum’s face when he got the biopsy results. There was no sign of cancer cells within the tissue that was biopsied.
As much as I wish and hoped that this was real, there was something not right. From a terminal diagnosis to remission in a couple of weeks? Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there is a vaccine or a cure for cancer (and the common cold) locked away somewhere in the world, but lets face it vaccines and cures don’t make money; the chance that dad had been given a miracle cure, to be was slim to non-existent. I stewed on it for a few days, and eventually got the courage to urge dad to go back and have them re-perform the biopsy.
After long discussions with dad and mum, dad finally agreed, although neither were really happy. I explained for a small bit of discomfort, if the results came back clear again, surely that would be a small price to pay. Sadly that was not the case though. When the previous biopsy had been performed, they had missed the tumours altogether. The weeks following the tumours had continued to grow.
The last week of January was nothing short of hell. Melbourne experiences consecutive days above 43°C and reaching 45.1°C. If you could find grass to walk on, it crackled like it was frozen in a bad frost, but it wasn’t even green grass had dried that much it broke under foot.
The calendar ticked over to February. Dad was in and out of hospital for test and treatment. The biggest relief I was getting from the heat was from the air conditioner in my car travelling to and from work. Water was scarce and the state government was urging everyone to minimise their water consumption to 155 litres per person, per day. That first week was becoming unbearable. The temperature seemed to keep constant at night, and during the day it got hotter. Everyone was becoming more concerned, the state of Victoria was turning into a powder keg, waiting to be ignited.
Half way through the week the Bureau of Meteorology had forecast for the temperature to peak on Saturday the 7th. The Country Fire Authority, the primarily volunteer firefighting agency which protects most of Victoria was getting worried, as was the Department of Sustainability and Environment (public land) and Melbourne Water (water catchments). Arrangements were formulated and plans put in place for the Saturday that was rapidly approaching.
There were a number of fire that were burning around the state when the clock ticked over past midnight on Friday night. I’d had an early night, we were manning our fire station from a very early hour, just in case, one of our trucks was still away in Gippsland, at a fire in Bunyip.
I’m not going to tell you what the outcome of Black Saturday was, it has been documented by many people in the past 10 years. I can tell you however it did change me. I did not sleep for 6 nights, and survived on 10 or 15 minute power naps when we infrequently returned to the fire station. My diet was pretty much sausages in bread for those days, I ate like a Trojan and lost 8 kilograms.
Our whole brigade was stood down on the following Thursday night and three of us were physically escorted out of the station, we did not want to leave; the fire was in our town, where we had been born, raised and continue to live, even to this day, and it was our choice, our decision, our job to protect the people who also call it home.
Ten years on I still miss my dad. The slightest thing will still set me off. I still hear him screaming in pain. And I still remember the day he told me that he knew is time was nearly up, and he was going to die. Dad and I had our fallings out over the years, and as much as we could rattle each others cages, we was still my dad and stood beside me though thick and thin, and gave me a kick in the ass when I needed it, and sometimes when I didn’t.
And summer, we I still have not really had a summer holiday, not since I was a kid anyway. I might escape for some days between Christmas and New Years, but when the sun gets hot and the air gets dry, I feel it is my duty to be here, in town, to “protect life and property” as I vowed to do over 25 years ago.
Take me out of town on a hot and dry summers day and I get anxious, I’ll be crossing over the river heading back into town the first moment I get, and it will take a lot more than the hellish summer of 2008/09 to get me to leave.
This town is not only mine, but I am it’s. It is not small as it used to be, I don’t know as many people here anymore, but it is still home. Dad is still here, buried in the local cemetery, overlooking the hills. I go out now and then and have a scotch or a rum with him, it is therapeutic, and he has to do all the listening now.
Mum is here, we celebrated her 70th birthday last night, a surprise party, with 30 odd friends. Some she has known as long as I have been around and some more recent.
Dad’s diagnosis and the Black Saturday fires took their toll on me, and continue to do so. They changed the person I am, and as much as I wished that neither had ever happened I can’t turn back time, and like every other event that has shaped my life, I would not be me if they had not occurred.