I feel tired. I feel this way quite a lot of the time right now and it has become a world-weary feeling in recent weeks.
A summer of watching awful bushfires tear through fragile countryside, primed and crisped by years of drought, has depleted my emotional reserves; my anxiety has been amped relentlessly by drama-TV with its endless images of the burnt, the homeless and the devastated.
Yet somehow, we receive the blessing of some summer rain, and the ground is unseasonably green again. As I focus warily on 7th February 2020, the 11th anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires, I wonder what to expect. Last year was the biggie, the 10-year anniversary, and I spent much of my time and effort working on a documentary for the ABC exploring how survivors had rebuilt their lives in the 10 years since the fires. So 11 years on are we all done now? Should we all officially be “over it”?
Those of us who have experienced a deadly bushfire doubt that will ever be true. We know that it tends to keep its grip on us in various ways and that it will never quite go away and leave us in peace. In fact, if this summer is anything to go by, it returns vengefully and lives vicariously through every new bushfire, finding new ways to torment us through other people’s trauma.
Anniversaries can be difficult events and over the years, I have spent them in different ways: sometimes solo, sometimes in company, other times working or interstate. This year I just feel grateful and choose to spend some time with my horse Walker, my rock, my companion and my best friend of 22 years, Black Saturday survivor and my last link to life before the fire.
Relaxed and friendly we hang together; I hug him and thank him. I crouch between his front legs and he stands over me, protectively. When I finally stand up, he wraps his head around my legs and pulls me in towards him. Our bond is beyond words; the understanding between us is simple, unspoken and powerful. We belong to each other in unbreakable ways.
Which is why his sudden illness and death some 5 hours later is like a punch to the gut, followed by a swift uppercut. I am dazed. I reel around, floundering, numb from shock. Much later, I feel frightened, not knowing how I will manage without his constant reassuring presence in my life. Why? I ask the universe. Why now and on this day?
There is no concrete answer, just suspicions hovering on the edge of my conscious mind. He leaves this life exactly 11 years after surviving Black Saturday and as I search for meaning, I find this too eerie to be coincidental.
Death reminds us to be grateful for what we have, for love and for life. As it rocks the foundations of my sense of security, it also reminds me to honour the legacy of the one I have lost. Walker was my anchor in what could sometimes be very choppy waters. His constancy held me up and cheered me on whenever I felt down, dispirited or exhausted. A hug, his smell and a touch of velvet muzzle were his encouragement that my world would re-balance, whatever winds were currently blowing me around.
And so, as the tiredness of events settles in and threatens to drag me down with it, I realise I must seek and find my balance once again. Walker urges me to help, to return some of the support and understanding I have received over the years. I have been nursing an idea for some time now and Walker’s death has finally released it. I wish he was here to see it with me but I have no doubt he will be here in spirit:
Saturday April 4th, 2020
A workshop for all those who have endured this tough summer, have somehow managed their experience and difficult memories of similar events and who would value some space to reflect, take stock and find their balance once again. Come spend a peaceful day with the horses at Amaroo, Gisborne. No horse experience necessary. Check our workshop page for more details and remember – Walker will have your back, as he has always had mine.