February 11, 2009 02:00pm
ONE heartbreaking phone call confirming her cousin and his family had died in Victoria's horrific fires changed the world for mX journalist Marion Taffe.
WHEN the phone rang at 1.30 on Monday morning, I knew it was bad news. It was my sister, Anne, and she couldn't even talk. "Is he gone?'' was all I could manage. "Yes.'' "And the girls?'' Anne just cried. "What, all of them?'' She didn't have to say anything. We just cried and cried.
Our cousin Rob , his wife, Tash, and their two little girls, Jorja, 3, and Alexis, eight months, had all died in the fires at Kinglake where they lived. At that stage we didn't have any more details, just, horribly, that the bodies had been found. Since then we've found out that they had gone to evacuate. Rob hooked the dog trailer up to the back of the car and Tash got the kids strapped in.
But they didn't even make it out of the driveway. It hit so hard and so fast. For me, the wait for news started early on Sunday when Dad sent me a text: "Still no news from Robert.'' Rob had phoned his mum on Saturday to say they were evacuating. But when they hadn't heard anything by Sunday, we all feared the worst. Until Anne rang, I couldn't let my mind do anything but think they'd be fine - probably among the thousands of people who were now homeless and trying to get word out. It's too horrible to imagine that a whole family can be wiped out. All those memories, all that life, all the happiness over the new arrival of little Alexis - all gone because it was a hot, windy day. As kids we'd spend holidays and weekends swimming in Warrnambool, playing on the Davey's trampoline. They were the coolest family, with the coolest stuff and the first people I knew to have a VCR. We'd hang out, listening to music and later riding around in Rob's friend's bogantastic Torana. Then we grew up. Holidays with cousins became less frequent, people got married, had families and we'd only see each other at weddings and, sadly, funerals.
The last time I saw Rob was at another cousin's funeral where we talked about how we had to try and stay in touch more and not keep meeting at funerals. I know so many people have lost loved ones this week and I know I'm not alone in looking at photos of burnt-out cars and the piles of ashes that used to be houses, wondering which one is Rob's house or car. There just aren't enough hugs in the world to make this go away. But hugs are good. People are amazing.
What's happened with work colleagues picking up the slack, friends lending an ear, buying a drink, it all helps. With the massive task of dealing with so many deaths, we don't know when we'll all be able to say goodbye to Rob and his gorgeous young family, but four coffins at one funeral is not something anyone imagines seeing in their life. I can't get the thought out of my head and my thoughts are with Rob's and Tash's parents and siblings. People are so precious. We need to hold our loved ones close.