As the last hours of 2019 approached, 32-year-old Turia Pitt stood in her Ulladulla home and looked out over Mollymook Beach.
There was no blue anymore. The sky was gone, obstructed by clouds of smoke, thick and angry, and a deadly light glowed from behind a hill in the distance. The ocean was dull, a dark, murky green.
She watched as fires from the north and south joined over the coast.
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It’s been a crazy time on the South Coast, with unprecedented conditions and a lot of fear and loss. But there are lots of people doing really awesome work for our community. THANK YOU! ❤️ If you want to help, you can do so by: 1) Supporting local businesses 2) Donating to Treading Lightly (a local grassroots organisation directly getting help where it is needed: Treading Lightly Inc, BSB: 633-000, Account No: 170066377) 3) Donating to the RFS (NSW Rural Fire Service, BSB: 032-001, Account No: 171051)
Then the power went out, she’d later write in her newsletter. The internet disappeared and reception was patchy.
Growing in her belly was an eight-month-old baby, and beside her, her two-year-old son Hakavai.
Pitt’s fiance, Michael Hoskin, cooked bacon and eggs on the barbecue. She described the town as “quiet… an eerie quiet. An apocalyptic quiet…”.
Residents and holidaymakers all the way down the South Coast of NSW, as well as in parts of Victoria like Mallacoota and South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, were trapped by encroaching fire. What took place in the days following would become one of the largest evacuations in Australian history.
But for Pitt, the sight and smell of a fast-moving fire was not an imagined nightmare she found herself facing for the first time.
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Fires had been raging up and down the South Coast for close to a month. People were evacuated from Bawley Point and Tabourie Lake. Milton was hit. Michael did food and supply runs in his boat. We watched as the sky went red and black days before Christmas. More fires broke out on New Years Eve. I watched, my mouth agape, as two angry plumes from the fires north and south of us joined together over Mollymook Beach. And then, the power went out. Mobile reception became spotty. Internet was down. Rumours swirled around town like the ashes that rained down on us. Embers in our backyards. Homes had been lost. Whole streets obliterated. A girlfriend’s panicked text about her dad being trapped. I packed my go bag and filled the bath with water. Michael cooked bacon and eggs on the barbecue outside. Hakavai and I read books on the balcony. We watched as the fine grey smoke settled in on our beloved Mollymook Beach. At a quarter to eight, the evening was quiet. Not a peaceful and serene quiet, but an eerie quiet. An apocalyptic quiet. No one on their balconies drinking beers. No music blaring from our neighbours next door, or from the houses across the street. No revellers preparing to celebrate the new year. And it was dark. No power. No lights. First of all: I’m sorry that I haven’t been more proactive in this time. It’s been a tough few weeks for me emotionally. I’ve had to focus on not letting my emotions and own experiences get the better of me. I’ve tried to not let the panic genie out of the bottle (because once that genie’s out, you’ve got zero chance of squashing it back in). And, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve done 10 marathons. And we can’t relax because it’s only the start of summer, and it’s not over yet. So just like in a marathon, I’ve realised I have to pace myself. A lot of things have been tough. Being 8 months pregnant with a toddler, I’ve felt as useful as tits on a bull. I’ve had recurring nightmares about running through flames with my son in my arms. It’s been difficult to sleep, eat or think and all I’ve really wanted to do is tap out, put my head in the sand and pretend that nothing is going on. Continued in comments.