Breaking News Today

‘For a town in its darkest hour, Mallacoota shone so brightly’

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Sam Cucchiara on the heartbreak, devastation and hope he encountered while reporting in the bushfire-ravaged Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota.

It's been more than a week since I arrived home from the fireground and I still can't get the smell off my leather watch.

It's unmistakable, pungent and utterly heartbreaking.

Every now and then, the waft of it fills my nostrils – and images of devastation flood my mind.

Sam Cucchiara reports from the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota.

The once-tranquil holiday haven of Mallacoota, on Victoria's eastern tip, was completely cut off because of the fires, with the main road in and out of town potentially shut for weeks.

Arriving there by boat with my cameraman Steve Ramplin, what struck me the most was the amount of blackened coastline.

It stretched for kilometres and kilometres.

National parks. Communities. Homes. All flattened.

On New Year's Eve, the town looked more like Mars.

Every now and then, the waft of it fills my nostrils – and images of devastation flood my mind.

Breathtaking pictures of the sky turning an eerie shade of orange were beamed around the world.

Mallacoota was now front-page news, headlining many international news bulletins.

Soon, the requests came flooding in – with radio and TV producers calling from Europe, America, Dubai, and London.

They all wanted to know what it was like being in one of the most talked-about places on earth.

Images of the eerie red sky above Mallacoota were beamed around the world.The fire burns near Mallacoota.

Days later, it's still difficult for me to describe.

There was no power or hot water, food was running low and petrol scarce.

But around town, there was a strange sense of calm.

There was something quite unsettling though about being surrounded by scores of army and navy personnel, rolling around in their convoy of trucks.

READ:  Car charges at pair in Melbourne carpark

This wasn't a war zone in the Middle East, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was.

Face masks were the hot commodity, particularly on our second last day when, in a matter of minutes, the sky turned pitch black – at 2.30 in the afternoon.

I received a frantic call from work telling me we were about to break into the tennis programming and go live around the country.

Producers back in the office couldn't believe what they were seeing.

It looked like we'd pre-recorded our live segment in the middle of the night.

Mallacoota was plunged into darkness in mid-afternoon as bushfires raged nearby.

Throughout the week, people cried and people laughed.

Many even managed to crack a smile. There wasn't a single person who didn't wish us a "good morning" or ask us how we were.

Incredible for a place which has lost so much.

And that's what makes this so difficult to comprehend.

For a town in its darkest hour, Mallacoota shone so brightly: from the six kids on holiday there who wrote beautiful messages of thanks on sea shells and handed them out to exhausted firies, to locals like Patrick Boyle who risked his own life to save injured koalas from active fire grounds.

The local IGA, running on a power generator, even opened its doors to us after hours just so we'd have something to eat.

And then there's the Mallacoota Hotel. Several workers there lost their homes.

But it didn't stop them turning up the next day to ensure that 200 firies and emergency personnel were fed each night.

Mallacoota evacuees are brought to shore on landing crafts in Hastings.

Something must be said about those frontline heroes too, particularly the navy and defence forces, who acted with so much professionalism in evacuating thousands by air and sea.

READ:  Sydney man admits to murdering housemate in Campsie unit

While I may never get that odour completely out of my leather watch, the people of Mallacoota will never erase the night of December 31, 2019 from their minds.

As the bright television lights dim, and the tourists adjust back into their usual routines, for those who call Mallacoota home – their lives will never be the same.

Tears welling in my eyes when we said our goodbyes, I promised them I'd be back soon.

They thanked us for being there too. Perhaps there was something cathartic in sharing their grief.

Give us at least a year, they told me.

"We'll be waiting".

Source: 9News

Share This
Finance Advice 2021