Letting Go - Recovering from Black Saturday
Whittlesea Secondary College still faces trouble and heartache every day from the tragic bushfires that occurred on 7 February, 2009: Black Saturday.
The first week
The first week back the emergency counselor Ian Patching said, "We've got almost this eerie silence. What was it like? You walk in and it was just shock. Absolute shock."
Ian Findley, the school's chaplain, described the first week back as "...very weird... the school bell was the only thing that was normal."
The school community was in major shock after the disaster, but Mr. Patching said that the teamwork of the students was the most outstanding thing he'd ever seen. Mr. Findley stated that "there were strangers hugging strangers in the street, everyone was extremely supportive."
The school community had a memorial day on 1 April 2009, which was described as "unbelievable" and "very special" by the counselors. Mr. Patching said, "It marked a time of change... we can now bring reality back, the circus was winding down."
As part of the memorial the school all got together and released hundreds of coloured balloons. Mr. Patching described it as "the best, as soon as you let go you could feel it". Mr. Findley said, "It was brilliant... Very special to me."
Each school member was also given a plant, which they planted in the memorial gardens that had been set up. In the gardens there is a rock that has been engraved. It says,
"These gardens are in memory of both present and past members of the Whittlesea Secondary College community who perished in the black Saturday fire on February 7th 2009. We will go on, but we will not forget. We will honour the memory of lost friends, colleagues, parents, students and their families for who they were and their contribution to who and what we are."
The new normal
The school community still hasn't recovered, though. "I wish I could say it was good... but it's not," says Mr. Patching. "There are families that are just moving into their houses now, after all the complications, and they move in and say to themselves, 'what am I doing here?'"
"Kinglake is a interesting place at the best of times. In the winter time in particular, it doesn't snow, it just rains, it just gets miserable. And if you're living in a caravan or a tent then it's even more miserable."
Mr. Patching says he would like to keep "the tree planting opportunity available" in the future, but both counselors don't think a service every year is necessary. "Things are going to take a long time," he added.
Mr. Findley suggests that the school needs to "develop a new normal". "We need to focus on the future, not the past… It will take a while," he says.
For more information about Victoria's recovery from the 2009 bushfires, including information about help and counseling that is available, visit www.wewillrebuild.vic.gov.au (new window). For more articles about Community & activism, check out our Articles archive.
Articles Written by Rhiannon
Reviews written by Rhiannon
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