Everything was so smoky, you couldn’t escape it. And it was thick red smoke - something I’d never seen before.
I’m Sukalpa Goldflam, I currently live on Wadawurrung Country in Ballarat, Victoria. I’m retired and my partner and I spend our time looking after our one year old grandchild and doing a bit of community activism.
Before the Black Summer fires, I had lived on Yuin Country in the Bega Valley with my partner for 20 years. We had a beautiful house surrounded by paddocks and a big garden that I loved.
In 2019, we had been watching the fires in Northern NSW but didn’t think they’d reach us because that would mean it was a huge fire, unlike anything before. But it did.
It was New Years Eve, our daughter and her partner and friends were over at our house when we decided to evacuate. We went to a friend’s place but the next morning, the whole valley was full of smoke so we had to evacuate again. I remember we didn’t even say Happy New Year to each other – that was irrelevant. I was seeing friends in town who had already lost their homes and farms. Everyone was frightened, they thought they were going to die. Some people did die.
We decided to send my daughter and her partner and friends out of town because it wasn’t safe, but my partner and I stayed because we weren’t ready to leave our community in crisis. We said goodbye to them and they went back to their home in Victoria.
At that point, we were sleeping in a tent at an evacuation centre. Everything was so smoky, you couldn’t escape it. And it was thick red smoke – something I’d never seen before. You had to sleep with a mask on inside the tent because it was so smoky and ashy. It was coming into houses and hospitals too.
Over the next six weeks, we periodically left the evacuation centre to get supplies from the house. We left food and water for firefighters for the fridge in case they needed it. We decided to put a sign on our front door that said “You don’t have to save our place. Look after yourselves.”
Then, the winds changed direction and our house didn’t burn. A few days later we had a lot of rain which turned into floods, and the floods helped put out the fires. But the fire had changed everything and my partner and I decided this wasn’t a place we could keep living. We sold our house and I said goodbye to my garden.
I’ve always known about climate change, but thought of it as something that mostly happens overseas. These fires were my first personal experience of climate change. They made me feel like it’s not just happening elsewhere – it’s happening to Australians.
We don’t know what it’s gonna be like in the future. We only know that it’s going to get worse, that these things will happen more frequently. It’s all really scary.
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