It’s 7pm Easter Sunday and I’m doing my best to hoover down the best roast turkey dinner in the history of humanity (as my neighbour would say).
But my arms aren’t playing the game. They’re floppy and shaky; they refuse to elevate above shoulder height. They’re jelly.
Thanks to two days of hauling tree branches, winding hundreds of metres of fencing wire, hoisting endless star pickets into trailers and – wait for it – chainsawing, my arm muscles have surrendered.
(Yes. Chainsawing. Me.)
But I’m not complaining.
Most of the people in the room have 10-15 years on me and have worked just as hard today – probably harder.
Some of them have been here for months.
I’m humbled. I’m sore. And I’m proud to be here.
When we arrived Friday (Good Friday) afternoon in our little campervan that could, we weren’t sure what to expect. We’d heard a lot about BlazeAid and knew they needed extra hands (and arms) over the Easter break.
We were welcomed by the camp coordinator, introduced around and directed to where we could set up camp, among the trees circling the Laharum Recreation reserve oval. We joined about 15 caravans, a couple of campervans and several tents.
On Saturday, the generator thundered to life at 6.30am, as promised. We dragged on our clothes and wandered across the oval to the footy clubrooms. It was a sea of high-vis vests and a hive of activity. Breakfast was sorted quickly and by 7.30am we’d left with our team to get to our work site – a giant, sweeping paddock with occasional ancient trees and a border shared with the national park. The soil was carpeted with a tinge of green – the first growth since the devastating fires a couple of months back.
Our mission: a burnt fence to be cleared to make way for a new one. We set to work winding wire and clearing the fenceline.
This was some workplace, beneath the daunting escarpment of the Grampians with the eerie, burnt bushland to one side and the open paddock to the other. As I sized up an iPhone shot for Instagram, a mob of kangaroos bounded by, just a few metres away. I chose not to click, to stay in the moment. And mostly I stayed in the moment for the weekend.
When our team leader called “smoko” we clambered onto the running boards of the trailer, clinging on tight as we were whisked away to the property-owners’ home for mugs of milky tea and toasted hot cross buns. It’s decades since I climbed onto a trailer.
And so the day went on … work session, lunch, more fencing and then back to camp for dinner (and a Trivia Night).
This morning, the generator sliced into our sleep at 7am … half an hour’s reprieve allowed for Easter Sunday.
Even the Grampians sunrise was wearing high-vis.
We dived into breakfast in the high-vis sea and then off to our work site, this time in a house paddock, clearing burnt trees, chainsawing them into firewood, stacking and more. More milky tea, more hot cross buns and a chance to chat with the families we’re helping out.
One conversation between our team leader and the property owner will stay with me for a long time. One lingering, knowing look between grown men who understand the devastation of loss and how much this BlazeAid help means – it makes every second of my time here worthwhile.
I feel small and humbled.
In the scheme of things, my shaky, sore arms mean nothing. That shall pass. I’ll make a decent fist of this fabulous roast turkey dinner and tomorrow morning, wakened once more by the rattling generator, we’ll climb into our little campervan that could and weave our way back to the city, to our jobs, to our little urban house. But we’ll never forget the desolation and heartbreak these bushfires have caused and the amazing, dedicated people we’ve met.
We’re privileged to have been a very small part of this community’s recovery.
And we’ll be back.