Clifton Creek Primary School principal, Sue Paul, hasn’t been able to inspect what is left of her school since the fires burnt it to the ground on December 30.
Ms Paul, who lives in Bairnsdale, said while she hasn’t yet returned to Clifton Creek, she has been unable to escape social media and has seen the devastation of the bushfires, including images of the school.
“I had parents sending me pictures of the fires once it was approaching the school,” she said.
“The following day, an ex-parent confirmed it was gone.
“It was a big shock, I cried for two days.”
Ms Paul says her sorrow slowly lifted when she received news the State Government intended to rebuild the school.
“I thought yippee, that was a real surprise,” Ms Paul said.
“It was a wonderful surprise, the best surprise ever.”
Ms Paul said had the Department of Education closed the school, students would have been forced to travel to Bairnsdale for classes.
“I think the whole community feels relief that the school is being rebuilt, it’s put a smile on people’s faces and we’re looking forward now, not looking back,” Ms Paul said.
“I want to see the love and laughter come back.”
Ms Paul said the school was a hub of community activity with its Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program and volunteers in the kitchen bringing people together.
She says the school community was shaken by the fires and will take time to move on.
“We didn’t lose anyone, but will be trauma,” Ms Paul said.
“Some people have lost their homes, there’s a lot of grief for them.
“The family who live next door to the school lost their home. They’re in my house at the moment, I’ve been staying in Melbourne for the time being.”
Ms Paul said when school resumes on January 29 she will go and live in the Bairnsdale caravan park if necessary.
On Tuesday, the school community came together at the Bairnsdale All Abilities Playground to design a mural for their new school.
All 10 students attended and appeared happy to see one another.
Grade six student, 12-year-old Mitchell Clancy, said he was “surprised” the fires destroyed the school.
“I thought the fires would blow over the wind kept blowing in the direction it was going. Dad thought it might miss the school,” Mitchell said.
Ten-year-old Jake Brunswick’s family home was situated beside the school. It too was gutted.
He was overhead telling a classmate he lost his Christmas presents.
The school’s music teacher, Victoria Shaw, said many of the school community lived on Bellbird Road in Granite Rock.
“It was all burnt out, but the houses are still standing because we all had fire plans,” Ms Shaw said.
“We all put our sprinkler systems on.
“I remember when we built our house five years ago, we disagreed with all the restrictions we had to put in place, but that saved us.”
The Department of Education will move portable classrooms onto the school site until the new school is rebuilt. The site will be cleared of debris this week.
Captain of the Sarsfield CFA, Ian Brownrigg, whose crews were responsible for Clifton Creek on December 30, told the Advertiser access to the school was difficult.
“If the school is rebuilt, it needs to be prepared for fire,” Mr Brownrigg said.
The fire captain, whose wife and children attended the school, said it hadn’t been properly prepared for the fire season.
Mr Brownrigg said the gardens “were up against the building, there was treated pine and woodchips, it was untidy from a fire perspective”.
“It’s all about preparation,” he said.
While the school site is over a century old, it received a major upgrade in 2009 with portable modular buildings being moved onsite.
Mr Brownrigg, who lives not far from the school further down Deptford Road, was defending his own 540acre property on the night of the fires with his sons and their mates.
“We’ve been prepared for fire for years and it was still hard enough,” Mr Brownrigg said.
The Brownriggs had 45,000 litres of water at their disposal, generators and sisalation paper on the windows of their home.
Their efforts paid off with the brick house and 1200 sheep saved.
“We had a lot at stake,” Mr Brownrigg said.
“People underestimate the preparations required because they’ve never seen fire.”
PICTURED: Clifton Creek Primary School students, Mitchell Clancy, Declan Cooper, Lilly Cooper, Blake Cooper and Jake Brunswick, with principal, Sue Paul, in Bairnsdale this week. K33-3873