AUSTRALIA – Tahlia Edmonds planned to be a ballerina one day, or maybe a gymnast. She was twirling around her living room on February 7, 2009, aged four, when her dad burst in and bellowed at the family to get out.
A fire burning in the distance for most of the day had first become a small plume of smoke on a nearby hill. Within 15 minutes it was a raging bushfire, and it was heading straight for their house.
There was no time to be sentimental. All her parents could grab were the three kids — aged two, four, and nine — and the two pets, before jumping into the car.
As they escaped the fire approaching St Andrews, north-east of Melbourne, they were met with a wall of flames.
“We got out, but then we were trapped,” Tahlia said.
“The flames were all around us. We raced right through the inferno.
Their neighbours — only 30 seconds behind them — did not.
When the Edmonds family returned several days later to survey the damage, the house Tahlia was born in was a pile of ash.
There was a bitter taste in the air, the smell of smoke, and an absence of sound. Deathly silence.
They had lost everything except each other.
Twelve years of rebuilding
Of the 400 or so fires burning 12 years ago on Black Saturday, the Kilmore East bushfire that tore through Tahlia’s neighbourhood was the deadliest.
“The impact of climate change more broadly needs to be addressed,” he said.
“I’d like to think we’d be able to have really good mental health services that would cater for this, and people in disaster prone areas would just be more aware these [mental health impacts] can happen.”
Black stumps, green shoots
Some families left Tahlia’s neighbourhood after Black Saturday. The black stumps still dotting the landscape are a constant reminder of that day.
“But there’s some young trees that have grown back since, and some of the black trees have got new green shoots.”
But Tahlia wouldn’t want to be anywhere else as her family slowly but surely rebuilds.
“It’s really exciting to be able to watch the rebuilding and know that no matter what we’ve been through, we can come back after that,” she said.
“I want to remind people that despite the most challenging circumstances, in time we can overcome anything.”
The ABC’s Takeover Melbourne program gives a voice to young people across Greater Melbourne. If you would like to find out more about the next Takeover Melbourne intake, which will open in late March, go to the Takeover website.