Summer holidays are a time when many of us go away to relax, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy the bush and beach. 

These summer holidays are different. For so many people, this is a time of fear, fire, and uncertainty.

We are safe at home in Woodend. Though we are not directly affected by the fires, we came close during our recent holiday. Our hearts go out to all who are, including family and friends who have been evacuated and faced the real possibility of losing their homes.

In this blog post, I want to reflect on the intense anxiety I have been feeling. Sharing my story is in no way intended to take away from those who are in immediate danger or who have already faced the worst.  But, for those of us who are one step removed, feelings of anxiety, fear, anger and despair are, sadly, becoming a daily reality and it is important that we take the time to acknowledge such feelings and support each other as best we can.

Since late spring, as bush fires started to take hold, I have found myself having many conversations about the ‘earlier than usual’ bush fires, climate change, frustration with politics and the changing realities that we now faced in the warmer months.

Needless to say, we were all looking forward to our coastal holiday with friends in Tamboon and our Christmas with family in Mallacoota  (both in South Eastern Gippsland)

Terra Nova Drive, Mallacoota

We spent Christmas with our family in Mallacoota, a town name that you will recognise from the terrifying fire that impacted in the final days of 2019. Our plan was to gather with family who live there and enjoy the wild surf, waterways and the expansive bush surrounds.

On the morning of the 27 December just before leaving to return home, we had our last swim in the surf. As we left the water, we noticed small curls of ash and blackened leaves that had fallen like snow in the sand. It was a small gesture of what was to come. 

It wasn’t until the next day, on our return home that we heard that fires were advancing and that Mallacoota – as a coastal town with only one road in and out through national park – was particularly vulnerable.

Our Mallacoota family left with their three children later that day. Convincing old Tom to also leave was hard, as his instinct to stay and defend was strong.  They fled north to Merimbula and then Canberra. A few people stayed to defend homes. What was to unfold was a nightmare for so many locals and the 3000+ tourists in town.

Real stories like this awaken a fear that is primal. I found myself strongly tuned into my survival instincts.

Though I was hundreds of miles away from the fires, I felt the enormity of the devastation in every cell of my body.

I realised that I was riding the 5Rhythms Heartbeat Wave. I found myself moving through fear and anger to sadness, then joy and, finally, compassion. Across three days, I experienced the fullness of my emotional landscape. 

I felt the fear and this prompted me to do what I could to stay grounded and alert. I found myself surveying our home and surrounds to see what fire prep we needed to do.

I felt angry with myself that we hadn’t done this fire preparation earlier (what if this had been us? – our home would surely have gone up in flames!). My anger provided the perfect fuel for a focussed clean out of the gutters and a ruthless pruning of tree limbs that overhung our house. I stopped only occasionally for a sip of water, then returned to the work … there was just so much to do.

Looking West up Terra Nova Drive, Mallacoota

Finally I could do no more. My limbs were tired and heavy… I was exhausted and my anger had dissipated. Watching the evening news that night I heard about volunteer fire fighter – a new dad – who died when an intense firestorm caused the six-tonne firetruck to roll on top of him. Like most people, I found this devastatingly sad. As they showed pictures of his two year-old son and his pregnant wife, I cried and cried.

My sorrow lasted through the night until my dear friends popped around the next day, bringing hugs and a gift of home-baked bread.  Ah, the simple joys! They helped me sweep up the rotten debris from the gutters and clear the last of the pruned branches. We shared stories of our families; mine waiting to return to see whether their homes had survived, and theirs still isolated on the coast.

We ate together and felt the sweetness and preciousness of connection and compassion. I felt – and still feel, despite the continuing unfolding of this unexpected summer – truly grateful to be alive!

As I write this, my thoughts travel to you. I wonder who of you, within our dance community, have been directly impacted by the fires? If this is you, please accept our wishes or strength.

If you have been away from the fires but have experienced the horror via affected friends or family, the stories of others, social media or television, you may, like me, have felt genuinely emotional and overwhelmed.

If you have been wondering: “What can I do?” we have set up a go fund me account where all the money raised at Tuesday 14 January classes and other donations will be sent to Mallacoota Bushfire Relief.

I also encourage us all to keep sharing stories and listening.  This is a time for practicing the art of compassion – towards yourself as well as others.

If movement practices like 5Rhythms are one way you work through experiences like this, David and I are back teaching our regular Tuesday night 5Rhythms classes each week.

Installation 7th January 2020 – ‘After the fires’

If the 5Rhythms Heartbeat cycle (fear, anger, sadness, joy and compassion) rings true for you, I am also offering a Heartbeat Intensive workshop on Friday night and Saturday 17 & 18 January in Elwood.  This exploration focuses specifically on moving with feeling and cultivating compassion.

Wishing you all as safe and restful a summer as these extraordinary times allow. I hope to see you on a dance floor somewhere, sometime.