If it had been a normal summer,
Josh would have driven to the coast on New Year’s Eve.
His day shift at Maccas finished at 5.00pm so he’d have had plenty of time to get down the mountain before the serious partying got underway. He would have listened to his mother’s warnings to drive carefully, nodding politely as she said it wasn’t him she concerned about but all the other idiots on the road. Josh had been due to meet Dave and Johnno in Batehaven where Johnno’s mum had a holiday house. He was hoping Sam might be there, too.
Gilly and Jo would have worked whatever hours they could at the local IGA, saving for their gap year adventure.
They already had their plane tickets. They could recite their departure details by heart: QF1 from Kingsford Smith’s Terminal 1, departing at 17:00 on 4 February, arriving Heathrow, Terminal 3 at 06:15 the next morning. Although Jo had explained it countless times, Gilly still couldn’t understand how the flight could last 24 hours when they were leaving Sydney on Tuesday afternoon and arriving in London on Wednesday morning. Fortunately, Gilly had early entry to the Con; her complete inability to grasp the basics of physics would not seriously impact her music career.
Kate and Oliver would have been camping at Durras.
After two days, Oliver would have been fed up with tents and mosquitos and camp kitchens and shared shower blocks. Kate would have been in Pollyanna mode, spruiking the pleasures of reading and relaxing, and ramping up the joys of no work deadlines and no fighting over the remote control.
Marj would have spent most of January in her kitchen churning out meals for her children and grandchildren.
Tom and Elspeth and their pampered pooch would have been with her for the first week of the new year, followed by Josie and her tribe of kids for the second and third weeks. Josie would have to go back to work after that and Marj would have had the kids on her own. She would have built sandcastles with Kendra and Kit; she would have lost track of Kyle in the surf.
But it was not a normal summer.
Josh didn’t go to the coast because the road was closed between Braidwood and Nelligen.
He didn’t meet his mates. And he didn’t meet the CX-9 that would have failed to take the Northangera bend.
Gilly and Jo didn’t earn enough to bring all their plans to fruition.
Holidaymakers stayed away in droves and the supermarket didn’t need casuals to stack shelves and stand at checkouts. Gilly and Jo still made it to the UK and they bombarded Instagram with images of their Top Deck tour. But their money ran out after that and they came straight home. They didn’t get to New York, and Gilly didn’t meet Jack after the concert at the Julliard School. The two aspiring trombonists never jammed together; never toured together; never lived together.
Kate and Oliver abandoned their camping trip.
They stayed home and binge-watched Schitt’s Creek and Killing Eve and Fleabag. They ordered Uber Eats five nights in a row. They went to bed late and got up later. Phoebe arrived in the first week of October. It turned out that streaming services and takeaway dinners were more effective than IVF.
Marj’s offspring decided they wouldn’t go to the coast.
They also decided that Marj shouldn’t be there on her own. Tom drove down to collect her on New Year’s Day, taking the long route through Cooma and Nimmitabel and down Brown Mountain. Marj didn’t want to leave the house or Tom Snr’s roses, still flourishing above his ashes. Tom cajoled and sweet-talked and eventually lost patience; Marj acquiesced for the sake of peace. Installed in Tom and Elspeth’s guest suite, Marj slept poorly. At 2.00am, she went to make a cup of tea. She was congratulating herself on negotiating the stairs successfully when her bare foot sunk into the clipped fur of Cleopatra’s belly.
The fires changed plans and lives and futures. The fires changed everything.
© Tessa Wooldridge 2020
In December 2019, sections of the Kings Highway between Braidwood and Batemans Bay in southern New South Wales were closed to traffic due to bushfires.
The highway re-opened on 14 January 2020.
The following organisations are among those providing bushfire relief:
- UNICEF – Australian Bushfire and Drought Response, ‘supporting children and young people through the three stages of relief, recovery and rehabilitation’
- Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery
- RSPCA NSW Bushfire Appeal
Further options for donations can be found via the ABC Appeals: Bushfire Recovery Relief webpage
Image (above and featured): excerpt from Fires Near Me map, 14 Jan 2020 07:10.
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence © State of New South Wales (NSW Rural Fire Service). For current information go to www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.