We were in Kinglake West again last night, hanging with kids while their parents were in a community meeting… We’re there for the last time, in this incarnation anyway, on Tuesday night. The relief centre is closing down on Tuesday and having a big celebration – there are some big musical names turning up on both monday and tuesday nights… We’ve had a good time on friday nights – I remember how much i loved being a youth worker [though I have to say, i’m really, really missing the worship / sacred space part of my job at the moment!].
I drove up the back way last night, through St Andrews. The other road, through Whittlesea, is pretty confronting, but the St Andrews-Kinglake road is, quite simply, unbelievable. The road isn’t the easiest drive at the best of times – narrow winding road up the side of a mountain – and just now it’s scary driving. You drive for kilometre after kilometre through burnt forest. It was burnt clean through here – the ground is like a lunar landscape, and all that remains is the blackened trunks of sky-high trees. On some of the trees the burnt bark is peeling off, so the colouring is weird – beautiful and terrible all at once. Every now and again there are bits of green poking through. It’s yet to be determined how much of the forest has survived. The fire raced through here, at unbelievable speeds, and apparently that might give the trees some chance of survival.
Bindy and I were saying last night that even though we go up there on invitation and to run a program, it feels like we’re trespassing. It feels so very wrong to drive through there, to drive past house after burnt out house; averting eyes as you pass those with floral tributes where people died, sending out a silent apology to those who are living in the caravans at the front of their property, for trespassing on their road, their story, their holy ground.
There were yet more calls in the paper today for tourists to return to the bushfire districts. Those calls from tourism offices represent one section of the community; there are others who find the influx of tourists absolutely devastating. The roadblocks have been lifted in the area, and a lot of the locals are being heavily – and negatively – impacted by the tourists who are coming through. The stories they tell of voyeurism are breathtaking in their insensitivity. There are, of course, economic benefits to the tourism trade. The payoff for the locals is that they are forced to live their fragility and vulnerability in the very public eye, which runs the risk of a very warped healing process – one that seems to me quite likely to lead to anger and fear and loneliness.
I really know nothing about this, apart from the instinctive feeling of trespassing, and the conversations with a small number of people from within the community. These are really complex times in communities like this. No solution fits all, there’s no unified view. The Age this morning suggested that people think very carefully about driving through Marysville and Kinglake at the moment – the tragedy is still unfolding there. I wonder if we can’t think more laterally about how to support the tourism industry in those places in another way, just for the next month or two, until those who live in those towns have the capacity to decide which bits of their lives will be on display for everyone to see.