CAROL Kane has to contend with the trauma of losing her husband to the Black Saturday bushfires every day.
But the anniversary of that day is hitting her harder this year than it has for some time.
It’s not just that there are stories about Black Saturday everywhere to mark the passage of 10 years, but because they’re coupled with fresh stories of flooding and fires interstate.
“It’s like you’re living in a Groundhog Day,” Ms Kane said.
The depression and despair never really leaves her – “It’s like there’s a dirty great black hole there and you keep away from the edge,” she said.
There’s just so much more to the fires that tore through Bendigo’s western suburbs and claimed Mick’s life than pain and trauma, for Ms Kane.
“I refuse to drown in despair,” she said.
When she reflects on these past 10 years, she relishes all the resilience, beauty and love that have come with them.
And that’s what she’s hopeful this Saturday’s commemorations in Bendigo will bring, for her and for the many others affected by the fires.
“You can’t help but be proud of this town, the way it’s stood up,” Ms Kane said.
“You learnt a lot about the very nature of people in this town. That’s when you really find out who people are.”
The people of Bendigo, she believes, are the type of people you can count on.
Fifty-eight homes were lost in the Black Saturday bushfires in Bendigo.
A total of 341 hectares of land were consumed by fire.
Map of the Black Saturday bushfires at Bendigo
The blaze started in Maiden Gully shortly after 4pm on February 7, 2009, and spread to the neighbouring suburbs of California Gully, Long Gully, West Bendigo, Ironbark and parts of Eaglehawk.
Mr Kane was one of 173 people who lost their lives to Black Saturday, statewide.
Ms Kane remembers people’s generosity after the fires, even if all the person extending the helping hand knew about the recipient was that they were fire-affected.
She said there were many examples of people’s kindness that gave her strength.
To this day, she has kept a trauma teddy crafted for her by a friend she met via a website called Cat World.
“I call him Bernard,” Ms Kane said of the bear, with a laugh.
He’s a colourful crochet creation with a pink shirt, a multicoloured scarf and trendy matching trousers.
“She and her friends made a heap of care bears for people,” Ms Kane said.
”To me, it’s what he represents. It’s love… compassion. Plus, he’s got the biggest smile on his face.”
When she looks around Bendigo, Ms Kane sees a city that has rebuilt.
“It’s been a renewal. It’s not only been a renewal of things, but a renewal of purpose and soul,” she said.
“I’ve come out the other side a totally different person than who I was.”
Ms Kane has become an author.
She doesn’t write about the fires. She writes about stuff she says she’d want to read. She has penned a trilogy.
Ms Kane said she had never thought of writing, before the fires.
She believed many other people had rebuilt, just like her.
“They’ve rebuilt their houses. They’ve rebuilt their lives. A lot of people have rebuilt their careers,” Ms Kane said.
There were physical features that had changed.
“Long Gully itself has progressed a lot since then,” Ms Kane said.
While the 10th anniversary of Black Saturday has its challenges, she said it was a time for reflection.
“It’s not only a way of remembering the dead, but the good that has come out of it,” Ms Kane said.
Mark Cattell was instrumental to beginning that process of recovery for the people of Bendigo.
Formerly the City of Greater Bendigo’s Fire Recovery Coordinator, he set the tone for the healing to come.
Mr Cattell remembers the first meeting he scheduled, which aimed to help give people a sense of direction and to come to terms with the emotional toll of the disaster.
“To me, it was a really humbling experience,” he said.
To this day, he remembers speaking with a man who was finding it difficult to engage with the content of one of the meetings.
“I still talk to that man regularly,” Mr Cattell said.
He remembers sharing touching moments with families as they rebuilt their lives.
Mr Cattell recalls being part of the Black Saturday response in his capacity with the SES.
“It was a challenging time,” he said.
But, all in all, his reflections on the fire’s aftermath are positive.
Mr Cattell said he had aimed to make the recovery process all about the people of Bendigo, and to give them a sense of ownership of the process.
Each individual dealt with the trauma in their own way.
Some people wanted to get in and build right away, Mr Cattell said, while others needed to take their time and to feel comfortable to do so.
“I’d like to think the things we put in place put them on the right track," he said.
During his time in the role, he encouraged people to consider the new normal – because there was no going back to what life was like before the fires swept through.
“The test will be what happens when the next fire comes,” Mr Cattell said.
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