This beach trip unfortunately had no dips in the ocean, sunbaking or reading magazines while hanging with your besties.
It was barely 8am and we were parked at Malua Bay beach. Cars had already packed the grass area near the surf club. The air was thick with smoke and we had no idea what the day was going to bring. Our wake up call this morning was the automated phone call telling us to evacuate the house at 6am.
Just the beginning
We’d only driven down the day prior through Bega. I thought it was a good idea to have a break given we’d just finished renovating our house we practically gutted over the last year (while both working full time, raising a toddler and being pregnant with our second child).
Back at the beach, we watched as cars kept arriving. Filled to the brim with what belongings people could take in the short time. The sky kept getting darker and we could see the flames on the ridge ahead. This was mixed with the occasional bang of a gas bottle exploding. Our phones had no service, no way to tell family in Canberra we were ok.
Within what felt like minutes we were surrounded by it. Guerilla bay burned to our left, and spot fires were not even 200m away near the surf club. The houses straight ahead on the hill were collapsing and there was a fire racing down the hill towards the beach.
It was deemed too unsafe to stay where we were so we all got out of our cars and on to the beach. The wind sprayed sand, the air was choking, but luckily the waves made it a bit more bearable. I did my best to shield my 4 year old and 4 month old while trying to stand comfortably with my left foot in a boot because I’d stupidly broken my toe a few days back. My mother in law held all 3 dogs while my husband and father in law did their best to get more information on the situation and help others.
How are these volunteer firefighters coping in these conditions every day without the proper gear? Here we were struggling to breathe and it was not even a few hours of exposure.
Strangely enough, there wasn’t a feeling of panic in the air. The surf lifesavers were being fantastic sounding the shark alarm at regular intervals to keep everyone informed. The guy next to us actually went surfing for 5 minutes as he felt there was nothing else to do. People calmly sat on the beach with their loved ones and pets.
And so it went on for hours, until the two men in our family decided to drive back to see if the house was still standing. It was around 3pm at this point.
Smoky with a chance of…
The house was still ok, so we made the decision to go back up the road around 4pm so the kids could sleep somewhere comfortably and be a bit more out of the smoke. All I wanted at this point was to get the little man to have a decent sleep after the road trip where he had barely slept a wink.
We all took showers with the remaining hot water and served up some cold ham and leftovers we had in the camp fridge. We hadn’t properly eaten until now aside from feeding the kids. I thanked my lucky stars again that I was breastfeeding and could feed my son on the go.
The radio remained on and we all hopped into bed before 9pm, not knowing what the night would bring. We’d made a plan to not drive anywhere without a proper plan in the morning… but that all went out the window pretty quick.
Get out, NOW
Was the message we heard instead of Happy New Year’s. The risk of the fires was increasing, and all tourists were urged to get out of the beach communities via the limited roads that were still open for now.
We made a decision to head north to Ulladulla in the hopes we could get back to Canberra through Kangaroo Valley (the Bega way was still closed due to active fires). It took almost an hour to get over the Bateman’s Bay bridge, and every petrol station we passed had queues kilometres long. It was like a scene from ‘War of the Worlds’, minus the aliens.
Ulladulla was without power also. There were hundreds of people already at the evacuation centre there. The beautiful people at Ocean Vibe were feeding people for free with what food they had left, and we had at least two people offer us help on the street even though they didn’t know us. The roads out were closed so there was no way of getting home today.
We drove around until about 3:30pm looking for accommodation. Somewhere that would take us and the dogs, but had no luck. Again, we made the decision to head back to Lilli Pilli despite the risk. At least we could have a shower and a clean bed. More than what so many poor people in this area don’t have access to right now.
Take me out
Morning of the 2nd, we anxiously listened to the radio in hope the road would open. Sometime after 9am we learnt we were able to get home via Bega. We embarked on what would end up being a 10 hour trip. Some of these hours we only crawled along at 10km, or sat in a queue km’s long up Brown Mountain.
My 4 year old was nothing short of a legend in the car this day. She barely complained. As for the bub, I pumped on the go so we could bottle feed and keep moving. The risk of stopping on the side of the road meant we may not even get home.
As with all great adventures, he decided to make it interesting by pooing no less than 5 times. And although he was so overtired from the ordeal over the past 3 days, he did surprisingly well being stuck in a car for 10 hours straight. Yes I did hold him when we were crawling along. And I may have done a drive by nappy change too…but hell we just wanted to, and needed to get home to safety.
The real heroes
This short ordeal of what we went through is nothing compared to the thousands of people that have lost their homes. That is why for the months of January and February, all profit from our sales will be donated to RFS NSW. These people are giving up their time and risking their health and lives to keep others safe.
Lastly, a shout out to everyone else who has offered help to someone in this time. Whether it be financial, food, a roof over their heads or even just assistance with a task. Times like these really do remind us of how good people are.