For Sarsfield residents, Milusa and Kevin Giles, the past 12 months have been the most horrendous they’ve ever had to endure.
The bushfires, 12 months ago yesterday, not only wiped out their home, but completely obliterated their flower farm business, which they’d spent years establishing.
Yet, they feel lucky to have celebrated Christmas with family in their newly built home, completed just in time for the occasion.
“It was certainly a nice Christmas gift,” Milusa told the Advertiser after enjoying a festive lunch with her two daughters and four grandchildren in the entertaining area of their spacious four-bedroom home.
Colmac Homes started building the Giles’ new house in July and finished in mid December.
The house is light, airy and comfortable with sweeping views across farmland looking toward Tambo Upper.
A tranquil swimming pool, overlooking the chook shed, completes the tranquility.
“It beats living in the shed,” Milusa said.
For months after the fires, the couple camped in a caravan on their property until a large shed was erected to make life a little more comfortable with their two large dogs.
Last Christmas, the Gileses had no idea of how their life would unfold, although Milusa may have had an inkling.
The couple had spent an anxious Christmas Day with their daughters in Kyneton, worried about the bushfires that had been burning for weeks in East Gippsland, around nearby Bruthen.
Kevin returned to Sarsfield two days later to keep an eye on the property while Milusa stayed on in Kyneton.
However, Milusa reveals she had “a really weird feeling that things were starting to get serious”.
Before she had left Sarsfield she had packed photo albums and some memorabilia into boxes and sent them to a friend in Bairnsdale.
From Kyneton, after Kevin had returned to Sarsfield, she arranged for a friend to pick up two tapestries her mother had done that were hanging on the walls of the house.
It’s a move she doesn’t regret.
After the fires swept through on December 30, despite Kevin’s valiant efforts to save the house from ember attacks, their home caught fire and was totally destroyed, with everything inside.
The couple’s new home has sprinkler systems on top of the roof and under the eaves.
“There’s no doubt it (fire) will come again,” Kevin said, predicting climate change will provide the conditions necessary for a 2019 bushfire repeat in time.
The couple is now trying to move on and elected not to dwell too much on the anniversary of the bushfires.
“It’s happened, you’ve just got to move along,” Milusa said.
The Gileses are in the process of re-establishing their flower farm which too was destroyed in the fires. The plantings have been done but Kevin concedes it will take four to five years before their flowers grow.
While they receive the Farm Household Allowance, Milusa said it isn’t enough to sustain them and she now works a part-time job in town.
Kevin feels he probably should do the same, but Milusa said if he doesn’t stay on the farm, they will be further disadvantaged in respect of preparing for their future business.
Milusa said she’s been touched by offers of help from all other Australia, but worries for others who are still struggling to rebuild their lives from the bushfires.
“There are so many others waiting for this moment,” she said.
Asked if they have any regrets or bitterness over the bushfires, Kevin reflected thoughtfully for a moment before saying quietly, “there should have been controlled burning done around the area prior to the bushfires”.
“More cultural burns need to take place
around the interface of farmland in the future,” he said.
Sarsfield flower farmers, Milusa and Kevin Giles, with their grandchildren Elsie, Annabelle, Noah and Genevieve, celebrated Christmas in their new home after their house and business were obliterated in last year’s bushfires. K488-8529