Hey all. When we heard the temp on Saturday was going to reach to the low to mid 40s (C, that is, not below, or anything like that), we decided to head for an ocean beach. Consultation with friends and neighbours followed, and we decided to drive SW toward the coast of the big bay below Melbourne city. Being described as the hottest place on the planet sounds great, but we thought we could ge cooler elsewhere. And there's something thrilling about jumping around on a beach on February 7...
Within 1 hour, we were at the coast, using the new freeway, which uses an electronic toll device as you drive under huge towers that record your passage through the freeways (that's another story, I think, being recorded every inch of your drive). There is a lot of public art, by the way, along these new freeways -- quite amazing to see.
We stopped at a little town called Rosebud, just to figure out what things looked like ... we were looking for a gentle, shallow beach, not the huge wavey steep sloped beaches that lure the surfers (that will come later for us in February). At Rosebud we used the public toilets (I must say the NZ'ers and Aussies do it right -- everywhere there are accessible public loos which just make things easier when you are travelling as a pack, kids and adults), and walked out on a jetty sticking out into the ocean. People were fishing, kids and a few adults were jumping off the deep end (cannon balls, "bombies", jumping for height and wave effect), and we were lurking. Spotted a "bird" with a beak, cruising in the water (reminded us of a loon or a cormorant), which soon dived under, and started zooming around -- looked like a fish in the water. Guess what? A fairy penguin, swimming fast, everywhere. The fishing guys affirmed that it was a penguin -- they said they are often around, looking for a light snack! We were more than thrilled, believe me!
We walked around for a while, headed back to the (new, used) car, and drove on to a town called Sorrento, a reasonably high end tourist type/weekend place. Nice looking shops, people, and buildings, including some original colonial mansions. We bought some dogs from a few locals doing some fundraising on the side walk, purchased a "punnet" of strawberries (fresh from the field that morning, and that brings back memories), and sat down for a lunch before we headed back to the ocean to swim. We were trying to avoid the noon hour, bright, burning sun, trying to fry our northern skins. Found a gorgeous cappuccino (when can't I find a good coffee?) in a cool spot, discovered a great little gallery which sold local art, and moved on. We stopped along the ocean, set up shop under some trees, and walked into the water. Around 3:30 or 4, the "change" came -- this is a weather change which occurs when the wind starts blowing from the south, from the regions of Antarctica. The tide went out, and the kids had great sandbars and watery pools to play, rescuing jellies that had been beached by the wind and waves, and I walked along the beach looking for shells. There were great black scallop shells, and many live clams dug into the sand, just beneath the surface.
By 6:30 we were tired and hungry, so drove back to Rosebud to a little Italian resto we had seen, and tucked in -- pizza and pasta (and ice cream after the meal for the kids, who astonishingly, had enough room for gelati or ice cream). Driving back home on the freeway, we smelled smoke. Yes, there had been fire (extreme fire hazard for Saturday, Feb. 7) warnings, but we did not listen to the news all day. Coming toward our little road up the mountain, there was a road block. Apparently there had been a fire just at the train station in Upper Ferntree Gully, so we had to divert to another road (which I did not know existed...). We were all tired, so felt a bit anxious about getting home.
Without our realizing it, while we were escaping the heat, there had been devastating fires around parts of this State throughout the day, particularly when the wind got strong with the weather change. Today, on the news, we heard that 50 people are dead, and homes, properties, and farms burned to the ground, and more people in the hospital, some not expected to survive. I guess we were just thinking of escaping the heat, not of the potential danger of the weather conditions. On the news, it was reported that flames the height of a 4 storey building came roaring over a hill, and people had nowhere to go. Those who tried to escape were caught by fallen trees, or dense smoke, or more huge fires. It is shocking to see. The fire at Upper Ferntree Gully is small in comparison, but makes us realize that it could happen in an instant. Tom's Department Head has a farm near the fire area, but the fires did not reach him. I'm sure Tom will hear more about it tomorrow.
The kids' school has a fire evacuation plan. It is part of their training regarding possible emergencies. While it feels unreal when the neighbours talk about fire safety, it's a very real threat. The drought is in its 12th year, the eucalyptus trees (which smell great after a rain!) are dry, and there are leaves, grasses, and other combustible materials everywhere. If I'm here without a vehicle, I either leave early when the warning starts, or head for the horse paddock, where there is an open clear space. The local fire department (including many volunteers) will apparently hose it down for a safe and wetted spot.
Our thoughts go out to the people who died yesterday, and those who now face devastation as a result. It's mind boggling to consider... we were innocent and unthinking as we drove to the coast. Please send your prayers and thoughts to those who are now coping with the loss of loved ones, and those who are struggling for their lives in hospital.
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