In My Kitchen – February 7, 2014, an Anniversary Story.

In My Kitchen, I dream, plan, write, contemplate and meditate as well as chop, weigh, cook, time, taste and decorate. Friends and family come and go, drink wine, tea or coffee, laugh and gossip. Little ones open the pantry door to inspect the contents. Older ones with longer legs climb up on chairs to lift the lids of secret tins at higher levels. One of our many computers resides in the kitchen; it is a source of vital information during the summer months. We constantly monitor the weather, temperature, humidity and wind speed as well as checking the CFA site ( Country Fire authority).  We listen to ABC radio, our national broadcaster and independent icon, which relays up to date reports of fire and emergency warnings. We are vigilant and at times very uneasy. We self evacuate often. It hasn’t rained for weeks. The land is bleached and too dry. Beauty comes at a price.

As February 7 approaches, the 5th anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfire in Victoria, my mind wanders back to my beautiful pre- fire kitchen and the things that were there and the life we enjoyed in it. To be truthful, I think about my old kitchen quite often: it doesn’t need an anniversary to take me back. I can see the long jarrah wood benches, the green and cream Mexican tiles, the moon rising in the East window, the overloaded antique Australian pine dresser, the kookaburra paintings on the walls. I admire the apple green Fowler ware bowls on the shelves and the Italian plates collected from trips to Italy. There is a marble island bench for pastry and breads and a walk in pantry. In the centre of this large room stands a huge antique farmhouse table of kauri pine with black wood turned legs, antique kangaroo chairs, spindle backed chairs still retaining their original paint, and a quaint kangaroo high chair painted red. There is music and dancing, Nanna’s disco, laughter, cooking and food. This beautiful kitchen, as well as the house itself, was destroyed by the bushfire in 2009.

As the anniversary draws near, I reflect on two important perceptions:

  • the overwhelming generosity of Australian people during times of national disaster, and in this case, the Black Saturday bushfire of 2009, and
  • The ephemeral nature of material objects and the importance of non attachment.

I look around my current kitchen and am reminded of the generosity of the Australian people who donated goods, some new, some second-hand, money, and labour to those who lost everything in that massive fire storm.  In the first year following the fire, a year of temporary accommodation in converted sheds and house minding, we would visit Bushfire Relief and Support centres, to acquire the basics to begin life again. At first our needs were simple- underwear, second-hand clothing, towels and sheets, toiletries.  With each week, new needs arose- tools, spades, wheelbarrows, buckets to assist in the clean up of our blocks.  Then came the non perishable food items such as canned foods and pasta, the pots and pans, cutlery, crockery and so on. Some of these support centres were small and very personal. One centre in particular, the Hurstbridge support centre, run by the energetic Helen Legg and her team of tireless volunteers, became a special club- a place to chat with others, to share a laugh, a coffee, a weekly breakfast. If anything fabulous was donated to that centre, Helen held a raffle. Sometimes odd donations would arrive, for example a crate load of incontinence pads. Helen and co liked to  parade around wearing these napkins as hats.

Another bushfire relief centre was the size of a warehouse. It was a big day out going to Clayton, as it took three hours to view the massive aisles of donations. Most of the items, except food and toilet rolls, (!) were second-hand. It was a treasure trove. In terms of the kitchen, I found a classic old Kenwood mixer, some wonderful little entrée plates once used in first class on Qantas flights, and numerous pots and pans. There were second-hand towels, still with plenty of life left in them, sheets, and toys.  Lost amongst the boxes, I found a little gift wrapped parcel, containing a hand towel, some soap and some pegs. Attached was a neat hand written note. “I hope this will come in handy. Best wishes”. This was typical of all those who donated. It was given so freely and anonymously. Big and small, all was appreciated. I received a wonderful  white platter from a friend of the mother of my son-in-law. I use it all the time. A friend of my niece passed on a colourful purple bowl, made by Leon Saper of St Andrews market, now deceased, knowing that I would have owned some ( she was right).  My niece sent a new copy of The Cooks Companion, by Stephanie Alexander, but made sure it was the original orange one! it is  inscribed, ” Zia, Spring will come again. Louise”. Family members were exceedingly generous with money and donations. The Red Cross, the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, the Country Women’s Association, The RSCPA – on and on it goes.  People who remark on our Resilience may not know that we owe this to the Australian people.

The second perception, the ephemeral nature of objects and non attachment, was dramatically reinforced during that life changing event. Let’s visit my Kitchen of five years ago.  To be precise, this visit occurs from February 11th as we were prevented from returning to our destroyed homes for some days as the police and army searched for the dead- although some photographers made it their business to jump the control lines and to this day I still feel ambivalent about this.  Some photographers saw beauty in the charred remains of the bush.  We only saw terror. A small digression!

We enter the smashed and gnarled house: nothing appears to have survived. We discover a small terracotta plaque hanging on the crumbling wall above the wine cellar.  It is Balinese and depicts a scene from the Ramayana. I attempt to lift it from the wall. It disintegrates into invisible dust. It doesn’t crack, crumble or break- it simply vanishes. It survived on that wall for three or so days until a human hand touched it.

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My cook books had a dedicated bookcase – they are transformed into a snow white blanket. The ashen pages can still be discerned.  The following day, a strong wind removes any evidence of their existence.

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Green depression glass is welded and re -sculpted by fire. Antique Chinese Buddhas lose their heads and ears. A dishwasher sags, there are still items left inside.  The Ilve stove, still young, is a burnt out shell. Plates are smashed and cutlery blackened.  A sink lands on the ground. Pottery enjoys its time in the new kiln, but smashes under the weight of falling walls.

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The photos of My Old Kitchen below are aired today – I haven’t looked at them for a long time. Value what you have but don’t be attached to objects. We have a lend of them for a while, then they vanish as we all must.

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I would like to thank all the Australians who donate during times of disaster. This fundamental goodwill and generosity makes me proud to be Australian. And lastly, thanks to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, the amazing host of this monthly expose of In My Kitchen. Please visit her site to see other inspiring February kitchens.

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65 thoughts on “In My Kitchen – February 7, 2014, an Anniversary Story.”

  1. Brava Francesca, for having the courage a and resilience to share the raw emotions you must experience every day. We were all touched in some way by Black Saturday, and I know if our roles had been reversed you’d be no less generous. It’s the Aussie spirit!!

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  2. Francesca, thank you for so bravely sharing your remarkable story and photographs. I am humbled by your strength, and so proud of those who stepped in to help, in even the smallest way. Lady Red Specs is right, you would no doubt have done the same, and helping our mates when they are in need is truly the Australian spirit. Thank you again.

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    1. Thank you Liz, Anniversaries are important in our lives so that we remember the important things. For me,the Australian spirit of helping your mates, as you and Lady Redspecs have noted, always comes to mind in February.

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  3. What a beautifully moving post. I was living in the area at the time as well, and the day is forever etched in my memory. The fire didn’t quite make it as far as our place, for which I’ve always been grateful. Your strength and resilience are remarkable, and I’m so glad to hear you felt supported and helped by those around you at the time.

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    1. Thank your for reading Liz. I am sure you remember the day very well. It is good that the CFA has now revised its advice regarding ” Stay and Defend” as more people understand the nature of the wild fires as distinct from those little ones that we can cope with. The support was amazing.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your heartbreak and tragedy with us. I agree with your observations about the generosity of Australians and the importance of non-attachment. Beautifully expressed.

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  5. Francesca, What a lovely post. Your photos are so haunting. They make you think. “They could be my things.” And so they could. Your poor kitchen, your poor cookbooks, but you are right, things are transient.

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    1. Yes, it takes a while to get ones’ head around this. Now when evacuate on designated extreme fire days, I take only my laptop. ( for documents, photos, etc) plus some sensible basics. No ‘things’ come along for the ride. Thankyou for reading. F

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  6. What beautiful and generous words. I remember the day well, listening to it unfold on the ABC and then the horrific aftermath. I can’t begin to imagine your emotions going back for that first time -your photos put it all in perspective.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your story, in your kitchen, your heart aches, your life Francesca. This was sad but conveys a beautiful message of grace and resilience and hope. God bless. xx

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  8. Francesca. what a haunting yet beautiful post. I cannot imagine your kind of loss. As I was reading, I kept thinking of all my “treasures” in my kitchen and then at the same time kept thinking how right you are that these are just material items.
    Have a beautiful day.
    🙂 Mandy xo

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  9. Francesca, this is both beautiful and haunting. What an honest post. It sounds as if through the unimaginable loss you were also touched by the incredible generosity and kindness of both your community and strangers. The photo of your charred cake tins really struck a chord with me. They are just tins but they hold a lot of memories don’t they?

    I particularly like your line “beauty comes at a price”. We are facing very dry conditions on our farm and I often wonder would it be easier somewhere else. But, our property is so beautiful, if not harsh at times.

    Thank you for calling into my blog, if you hadn’t I might have missed this special post.

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  10. What a haunting post. We saw the fires on TV and said how awful it must be but it’s only when I see how it affects individuals (as opposed to nameless inhabitants of Town X) that I begin to appreciate the total and utter destruction. A complete contrast to the usual IMK posts. Food for thought indeed.

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  11. Here in the States, I do remember reading about the terrible fires. A few have used the word ‘haunting’ for your photo’s and I have to agree since they do show the ghost of a previous time in your life. It is truly amazing how people will eagerly help others in need. For all the criticism and cynicism we hear, so many people are generous and caring of others who need help even if it’s just kind words.

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  12. Oh Francesca, what a lot you’ve been through. Thank you for taking the time to write and share it with us, and for doing so as part of the IMK gathering. I’m glad you found it cathartic, and hope it wasn’t too painful a post to write. Thank you also for reminding us that things can change so quickly; that things, much as we love them, are just things; and that what really matters is being safe, and taking care of each other in times of need. xx

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  13. Thank you Celia, it has been an interesting learning curve too, but I have made some beautiful friends along the way, and some of my new ‘thing’s’ have value simply because they were donated. More nasty weather is on the way this weekend, so perhaps it’s a timely reminder for some of us who live in the country to review our fire plans.

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  14. I have tears in my eyes! Living in an area prone to bush fires I can only imagine what you went through! Material things are just that, things – but the destruction and seeing that must have been so horrific. I can only pray you never have to experience that again.

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  15. G’day and with a tear in my Francesca I read your wonderful, heart touching post today, true!
    I have learned many lessons in life, you can replace things, but not people and your blog post today for the In My Kitchen series will stay with me for quite a long time too!
    Cheers! Joanne

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  16. Oh my goodness, what a tough time you’ve had and how wise you are about it all. Your old kitchen sounds wonderful but you also describe your new kitchen so beautifully, it sounds like such a place of warmth and lovely activity.

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    1. Yes, the new kitchen is central to our lives. The old one had more soul but the current one is getting there. It takes time, (and a bit of clutter)! Thanks for reading my long post.

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  17. I have tears in my eyes at reading your story, but my ears ring with the sounds of strength and resilience of yourself and those who have been impacted by the trauma of fire. Thank you for your sharing your life and your kitchen x

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  18. This was a beautiful post. Thank goodness you are here to tell the tale. It brought tears to my eyes and sadness to my soul for you and all of the other people affected by tragedy. It is a nice feeling knowing that there are such a lot of good people left in the world too

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  19. Thank you, thank you Francesca for your beautiful moving story. And so the giving/grace goes on; this time from you to us in a message to give, and keep on giving. .

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  20. I still have the original post you wrote about your loss, some 5 years ago now. It was hauntingly beautiful, as this is.

    I’m honoured to have shared times with you in your kitchens, and witness where the new Spring has found you x

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  21. I am late to read this but found it so moving and insightful that I wanted to say thank you for sharing your memories – I hope they are easing with time. It is also a reminder of how we rebuild. I feel lucky reading them of how long I have owned some of the possessions in my kitchen – and in admiration of how beautiful your kitchen always looks in your photos, considering how comparatively recently you have rebuilt it.

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  22. Francesca, thank you for sharing such a beautiful post and emotional part of your life with me. I am sorry for your losses and inspired by your perspective of your experience.

    Like many who’ve commented above, I too watched the places in Victoria that I knew to be a part of my childhood memories, be devestated in the fires. Living in Adelaide at the time, I found it heart wrenching to hear and see what was happening. Feeling like my hands were tied, I didn’t have much to give at the time, but I donated about 6 boxes of my books because I wanted to be a part of creating new memories and helping to bring something to the communities that I knew would arise from the ashes. Seeing how what I considered to be such a small gesture had such a large impact at an individual level is something that I will remember forever, and do again without hesitation, thanks to you.

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  23. Dear Leah, I have the feeling that some of your books are on my shelf. Thanks for your generosity. It has been a topsy- turvy few years- I think I am your mother’s age- and so hard to begin again from scratch, but I have, thanks to you and others. F

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