Sunday 5 January
I awoke during the night to the smell of smoke, it slowly and insidiously seeping through whatever cracks in the room it could find; no windows were open and we had the air-conditioning on full bore all night to counter the 30 degrees outside. The smoke meant that the wind had changed and I wondered what this would mean for the firies.
We read the an account of a fire, experienced by one man, “ which came like the roar of a fast approaching train and then rained embers”. We watched the TV news with horror as there were accounts of the devastation caused by yesterday’s horrific conditions. (We later learnt Sydney’s temperatures reached 43 degrees.)
We attended Sunday service at the Rylstone Uniting Church where we were told at church not only to tell people we were thinking of them, but that they were also in our prayers. The church service, run by a lay preacher, Elizabeth Merz (with 'beard", "camel hair clothes" and leather belt in the photo), with our little tour group of 5 almost doubling the number in the congregation, was far from “slick” but was warm and inclusive. There was a skit on John the Baptist instead of a sermon, in which Pam has a one line part as a tax gatherer, delivered beautifully. We finished the service singing the rousing Battle Hymn of the Republic without accompaniment when the recorded music ran out. Morning tea, seated around a table in the church hall, put GPUC’s “mug of tea and bikkies” to shame.
We left in a hurry to try to find things to buy In Rylstone before the shops closed, but disappointingly found most of the shops shut for the Christmas/ New Year period. This was my last chance to find a wooden rolling pin. I’ve also failed to find pudding basins and cooking forks for Stir Up Sundays, as all the Op shops along the way have been closed.
We joined our touring group for Yum Cha, but really only dumplings and a bun, all frozen and flown up from Sydney, but still tasty, although it was a hot in the un-air-conditioned dining room in the historic Bridge Inn.
Going our separate ways, Brian and I went to see what help we could give Kianey in Kandos who has taken it upon herself to make packs of snacks for the firies. She was told by the RFS, who provide breakfast and dinner for them, that lunch was not necessary. The packets she makes up also contains hydrolyte sachets and wrapped butterscotch, both of which she had run out of, so there was only limited packaging available to do.
Brian and I thought the best way we could be employed was to drive to Mudgee (40 minutes away) to purchase the items and had fun clearing Woolies shelves of both items. She took us next door and showed us all the food, bedding and other items she had collected for those in need. She said she‘d started collecting after visiting and later supporting isolated people in the Walcha area after bushfires earlier in the season.
She was very emotional about the people she is helping and the sacrifices the firies are making. One small volunteer RFS brigade at Glen Alice has a 78 year old Captain, a 74 year old Deputy and the baby of the team is 61; they have been fighting the fires in the area for 66 days.
She told us that volunteers at the showground, organised by Rotary, were cooking the breakfasts and dinners for the firies. When asked, she said she had personally spent $8,000 on supplies, petrol and tyres helping anyone in the community in need. We offered to purchase cat and dog food which she was out of, but decided it was just better to give her some money.
Meanwhile, back at the church hall, Merilyn and her friend, Wendy, were cooking up batches of banana bread for the firies, although this exercise had to be postponed as Merilyn and her husband, Max, had been called to evacuate the house they are minding. They had to drop everything, pack up their belongings in a horse float and were going to Mudgee to stay with their daughter.
The community spirit and initiative is inspirational and we were so pleased to have experienced some of it first-hand and to a little bit involved.
The Shed Bistro seemed to be offering better food than the Kandos Hotel which I had initially suggested (only because the highly recommended, Pepinos Mexican was shut), so we went there, same table, same company but we all had different food, which was again good.
The big surprise upon leaving, was the huge drop in temperature, from 31 degrees to 18 degrees, with a strong southerly wind, tossing the trees about. Large flocks of screeching pink and grey galahs flew around and around overhead, landing briefly in the swaying trees, but no sooner had they settled they’d be off again. We all became concerned about the impact of this strong wind change would have on the fires in the area and hoped the firies were safe. It seemed so incongruous that we’d had such a pleasant relaxing evening when we knew, but couldn’t see, all around was a hive of activity and potential disaster and dangerous situations.