Today was the worst shift of my life. I work in a newsagency smack in the middle of Weston Creek, Canberra, which was burnt out by bushfires on the weekend. In my newsagency's paper runs, we lost:
Cotter (Uriarra), 14 houses
Holder, 33 houses
Weston, 10 houses
Chapman, 75 houses
That's 132 houses, we probably deliver papers to 100 of those.
In the rest of the area, for which we are the major newsagency but don't deliver to, we lost:
Rivett, 6 houses
Duffy, 185 houses.
I grew up in Duffy, went to school in Holder, worked in Weston and Chapman, all my 21 years. That's my home.
Duffy, my home, is on the front of all the major newspapers in Australia. There's a picture of my childhood home (which, thank god, still stands) on page 13 of the Canberra Times. A man is running past it, trying to get to his uncle's home.
My shift at the newsagency was surreal. I have worked there for over five years and I know all the names and faces. Instead of saying, "Hi, Mr Lugg, how are you?" I was saying "Mr Lugg, I'm pleased to see you. Do you have a house?"
All day dozens of people were coming in or ringing up, to say, "Hi. This is Mrs such-and-such of Perry Drive. Please don't deliver my paper. I have no home." I would say, "I'm so sorry. Did you save your family?" and know that many of these people are family friends whose houses I played in as a child.
One man bought five Canberra Times off me. "That's a lot" I said. "That's my house" he replied, pointing at the warzone on the cover. I looked. I used to rollerblade past his house.
Nearly all the staff at the shop had to fight for their homes. Most lost fences, garages, trees. One lost part of the house. One girl came back to find she had only the suitcase she took to Melbourne. Her brothers and sister, in saving their father's business papers, lost everything - phones, wallets, the rally cars, and the pets. I heard names: Cox, Mernagh, Abbey, Hrast, Fitzgerald, Austin.
After work I drove around Duffy and Holder, saw houses burnt literally to the ground three deep. The pine forest that surrounds Weston Creek is a landscape of black and smoking sticks still rising skywards. I stopped at my old primary school, St Judes. The community buildings next door are burnt and part of the playground, the old part that I remember, is charred and was still smouldering. The fire burnt around the edge of the oval, right up to the back of the Church and Father Havas' house. Residents came and beat back the flames to save Church and School. The tree we used to scratch our names on at the corner of the oval is blackened on one side, but my initials are still there.
Later, on "A Current Affair", I saw Emily, a woman I've been friends with since we were four. Two years ago their house burned down and they rebuilt. She was interviewed standing in the wreckage this morning. She has lost everything again.
The pictures in all the papers are of places I know. I recognise the people sifting through ruins and hosing houses. I haven't lost my house, I live in a different suburb now. My parents and my partners parents live on different sides of the same burnt hill, but neither lost their houses. My grandmother drove past furious bushfires to evacuate and wasn't hurt. I don't think I know anybody that died.
I hope this is the last time I ever see my home and my friends on the front page of the paper. I hope I never have to look at someone and think, "you've lost your dog. You're wearing a jumper I recognise as somebody else's. You have no bed. You have no photos of your kids. And I can't do anything except stop your newspaper".