CAROL Kane wants to move on. Sometimes.
Such is the persistent nature of trauma.
It creeps up on her every day, despite her best efforts to push the memories and pain deep within.
It seeps into her dreams and is her shadow at all other times.
Trauma came for Carol on Black Saturday in 2009 – and now she wants to forget.
But Carol also wants to keep remembering.
Carol can’t recall much of the first year after her husband’s death. It’s a fog. A time when she became an observer in her own life. A time when methodical tasks got her through each day.
“The day after for God sake I made up this freaking list that had to be done,” she recalls.
Cancel Austar. Cancel the power. Disconnect the phone line.
“It’s like you’re in a dream and you are going to wake up and it’s not really you, it’s like you’re looking at everything from a distance, very calmly,” she says.
Carol’s husband, Mick, died when fire tore through Bendigo’s western suburbs.
As then prime minister Kevin Rudd said, hell had unleashed its fury – and Carol recalls every detail.
Carol had just had a bath. Mick was watching the wrestling. She saw smoke and noticed a police vehicle outside. Before she had time to put her clothes on, the police car had gone.
“I thought, it can’t be too serious if they’ve left,” she says. Carol went to check on a horse in the back paddock.
“By the time I got back to the back of the house (about 60m), Mick was already out hosing the house down, and the fire was across the road. That’s how quick it was,” she says.
Mick told Carol to get their cats. “I went inside and said get in the car, but each time I came out he was still outside hosing the roof down.
“I told him about five times to get in the car but he was doing what every single man in the street was doing.”
At that time, Mick’s sister Jill Ryan and her now husband, Mick Ryan, were leaving a friend’s house after spending the afternoon swimming in Spring Gully.
They saw smoke to the west and thought they would check on a unit they own at Eaglehawk.
But as the couple followed the smoke, it took them closer and closer to Mick and Carol’s Albert Street property.
“I was trying to ring as we were driving in that direction and no one was answering so I was thinking they weren’t home,” Jill says.
“As we got to the traffic lights on Eaglehawk Road, the smoke was directly where I would have imagined their house was so I said to Mick let’s just go and check if they’re gone – see if the house is okay.”
The couple took their time. They stopped to get petrol. There was no hurry. Mick and Carol’s phone was still ringing out. Surely, they had left. That was at 5.39pm. In the next six minutes, all of their lives would change forever.
A man stopped Jill and Mick at the corner of Cunneen and Creeth streets. He warned them not to go any further.
“We were trying to assess it to see if it was safe to get in,” Mick recalls.
“It was pretty serious when you look at the size of houses and the gum trees behind and the flames are 30 feet off the top of the trees.
“It’s pretty intimidating to think if we go in, can we get back out?”
At the same time, Mick Kane’s leg had gone from under him and Carol was desperately trying to drag him from the carport.
When Jill and Mick arrived at the house, they couldn’t see the car or the carport because of the smoke.
“It was only when the wind shifted that we saw the silhouette of the car and of Carol and Mick, otherwise we would have driven off,” Mick says.
Jill and Mick then ran towards the house. Mick ran up the driveway and directly to where they were under the carport.
He screamed at Carol to leave before trying to help Mick to safety.
“At the point carol left, Mick had run in and I had stopped at the driveway but I knew he was going to be okay, we were just in time,” Jill says.
"He told Carol to get out and I thought this is okay, Mick’s going to be out with Mick any minute now.
“But it wasn’t. It was just so completely wrong. “But at that point, the fire was still behind the carport and still on the other side of the road. That changed in milliseconds.
“It was like it just waited and came out and snatched him.
“It was like it actually came and took Mick.”
Mick Ryan doesn’t remember that very moment. He can’t recall it being hot, but it was dark and noisy.
“I was screaming. I remember standing shoulder to shoulder with Carol but could not hear her response,” he says.
“When I was helping Mick, I remember him saying something but I can’t recall what he said because it was just that loud.
“I remember when the wind must have shifted, it blew straight back towards us.
“I don’t remember letting Mick go at that stage, it was just an instant.
“I try not to think about it. We exercised everything we did at the time and came up short.
“You’ve got to forgive yourself for not being able to do enough, and with the situation we faced we tried to exhaust all measures but it was a hopeless case.
“We can’t keep going back and saying what if what if, because at the end of the day you don’t get second chances at it.”
It was six minutes from when Mick and Jill last phoned Carol’s house to when they last phoned triple-0.
“When we left it was all over,” Jill says.
“We didn’t have a choice. I remember seeing so many people in the street and thinking they’re all going to die.”
Jill, Carol and Mick now know that when trauma strikes, time stands still.
“Each of us blame ourselves,” Carol says. “I sit down sometimes and think why did I leave? Yet there was only seven seconds between the time Mick got me out to the time Mick was gone. Seven seconds.”
“Everyone did the absolute best they could in the most horrific circumstances and to go back in hindsight is a pointless exercise.
“But of course saying that and stopping yourself doing that are two entirely different things.
“Instead of telling him nicely to get in the car, why didn’t I scream at him?”
Jill and Mick are always fighting the same demons.The questions are there. Why didn’t they leave Spring Gully five minutes earlier? Why did they stop to get petrol? Why didn’t they recognise the urgency?
“It was surreal at the time, but you just tried to execute something to get some hope out of it but it was just hopelessness I guess,” Mick says.
“But you got me out,’’ says a voice with an immeasurable gratitude.
“If you weren’t there Mick, I would have still been there trying to drag him. You saved one life.”
But life will never be the same.
“It hasn’t really mattered what’s happened in the last two years whether it’s been good or bad, but I have felt like any of the good things that have happened, and we got married last year, it’s like all the good stuff is happening under a cloud,” Jill says.
“The sun’s not out fully, it’s a cloudy day. Even when there has been some great things, there’s something overshadowing it.
“I feel like I can’t get all the good out of everything because there’s something that’s just not right in life anymore.’’
The darkness, however, has brought some light.
The family recognises the role the community played in their healing in the days and months after Black Saturday and saw yesterday’s memorial service as a chance to say thank you.
“It’s for everyone that was there – not only the people who were actually in it, but everyone that helped afterwards too,” Carol says.
“There’s no way you could even get through life without the help and support people offered they were absolutely amazing.”
But as Carol says, it’s easier to concentrate on others.
Even when Mick’s handmade barbecue, the only item left standing after the fires, was stolen, Carol focused on the positives.
“Unfortunately things like this, they bring out the very best and the very worst in society and it’s when you see the true nature of people.
“Thank goodness 97 per cent of people are good.”
Mick and Jill can see the positives, too. Whatever life throws at them now, they know what is important. Even when Mick lost his ute in the Charlton floods, taking away his work vehicle, he put it into perspective.
“Property you can shrug your shoulders at and go back to work and regain it, but you can’t go back with lives unfortunately,” he says.
It’s time to move on. Be positive. Be strong. Yes, there are many questions still unanswered about the devastating Bracewell Street fire, and Carol, Jill and Mick know it’s far from over.
The shadow of trauma will always follow; always be the cloudy day.
But Mick’s memory will live on and give them strength.
“His last acts were of bravery and no one should take that away from him,” Carol says.
“And that’s how he should be remembered, because he was a brave person. He fought all his life.”