With extracts from The Big Red Monster by Rosslyn Beeby, Published in Canberra Times 10/2/09
“Until last weekend, they were idyllic green retreats, where willing exiles from the city rat-race went to live the Australian dream of a bush block, a thriving vegetable garden and a couple of horses for the children.
Kinglake, Marysville, Narbethong, St Andrews and Arthurs Creek drew idealists, artists, small-scale organic farmers and tree-changers who wanted to live a good green life with closer ties to nature and the local neighbourhood.”
This had been our dream ….. On 20 acres at the head of the Diamond Creek, we bulldozed just enough of the steep slope to fit the house on, used the trees that were pushed over to build the frame and made over 2000 mudbricks to infill between the framing posts.
It was good country for farming possums, and not much else, but to us it was paradise. Electric supply was available and so we built a shack with the first mudbricks, some corrugated iron for the roof and free packing case boards plus 2 big recycled windows that connected us to all our surroundings .
We built a little dam on the creek to store water for making mudbricks and supply the house when it was finished.
“In the 1970s, it was the place to go for permaculture workshops and hands-on demonstrations of mudbrick architecture or to find an active enclave of small publishers who specialised in books and magazines on sustainable living.
And for many Melburnians, these little towns were alluring places to go for a weekend drive.
The St Andrews community market was a legendary destination for beautiful craft objects, gorgeous cakes and live music. During several decades of living and working in Melbourne, I visited stunning owner-designed and built mudbrick houses that used recycled timbers and artisan-crafted leadlight to such exquisite effect that they were featured in coffee table books and magazines on sustainable living.
I’ve met dedicated people who ran local wildlife shelters, artists making beautiful bespoke furniture and builders so passionate about energy efficient housing designs, they’d self-published illustrated books on the topic.”
The following years were good years, we finished our home, gypsied around Europe and the UK with the kids, ( by now we had refined the art of making do and living on the smell of an oily rag ) we then spent some time sitting on the verandah with a book and a glass of wine, enjoying the good life.
Eventually we decided that a new challenge was needed and so holding our noses we leapt into the mudbrick and timberframe challenge mark 2 . We sold the house and built others, but that’s another story.
Over the years we became friends with the 2 subsequent owners and took pride in the fact that others had come along and shared the dream of a place in our own little bit of paradise.
It was a living happily ever after story until Saturday 7th of Feb 2009 when everything changed.
“If any community was going to be well-prepped to deal with a bushfire, this was it.
But as stories emerge, it seems that although many people had well-rehearsed fire plans, the fire was a monster that was just too fast, too intense and way too big.
Like everyone with family and friends in this fire-devastated area, I’m slowly piecing together details about loss and survival. Some dreams are over, others will need re-building, but this is a creative community and, as they say, creativity is just another word for courage.”
The 3 mile long dead end road with our house at the end had become a trap. With the fire pushing up the valley from the only way out it’s remarkable that anyone survived. Of the 30 odd homes in the road only 3 or 4 were left.
The next part of this story can only be described as a miracle. Trapped at the end of a valley with the worst bushfires in Australia’s history travelling towards them at incredible speed, there was only one choice for the Parkinson family who were trying to escape.
This is how it was described by Stuart Rentoul of The Australian.
We are sad to lose this link with our past, a period of our lives that set the foundation for many adventures and challenges that at times was a lot of fun, other times character building.
Unfortunately this tragic event cost many lives, including friends who we had known and loved having lived more than 30 years in this community. Many including two of our children lost their homes, but fortunately like The Parkinson family they will in the words of Rosslyn Beeby “Like everyone with family and friends in this fire-devastated area, slowly piece together a new beginning. Some dreams are over, others will need re-building, but this is a creative community and, as they say, creativity is just another word for courage.”