Photography – Helen Janneson Bense
Locations – Mallacoota | Gipsy Point | Betka Beach | Pambula Rivermouth Beach | Snowy Mountains
The last day I saw my parents, 2 and half years ago, little did I know a bushfire of unimaginable magnitude was headed directly to their home. Our trip came to an end that very same day and we said our goodbyes, oblivious to how long our next visit would be. About an hour into our drive to Canberra airport we received an emergency evacuation text. Bushfires were sparking up everywhere. The smoke was thick, blurring our vision, and the roads were closing behind us. We had no choice but to keep on driving. I was terrified to leave my parents, knowing there was no road out of their town. We missed being trapped by the Australian Black Summer bushfires by merely hours. But what we left behind has sat heavy on my heart ever since.
Mallacoota is my parents home, but it is also a beautiful tourist destination. One that had thousands of people stranded there over the Black Summer bushfires. My parents were the lucky ones. Their home remained, and while there was a lot to clean/fix, they had a home to return to. Many didn’t. Over a hundred homes were lost in Mallacoota. And Mallacoota was just one of so many towns along the east coast that was devastated. The loss of lives, homes, forests and wildlife was a tragedy. 33 lives were lost, over 12 million hectares of bushland lost, 3084 homes lost, 1.25 billon animals lost and 60000 koalas killed/injured. I am forever thankful for all the firefighters, emergency workers, wildlife carers that worked tirelessly to save lives. And the HMAS Choules who rescued my family.
All I needed after the fires was to visit my parents, to hug them ever so tightly, and give them my love and support through this tragedy. We all know what came next and how much Covid that has impacted the entire world. It kept families apart in order to keep everyone safe. While it was heartbreaking to wait so long, those hugs were worth the wait.
What I noticed most on my return was the impact of both the fires and covid on the town, locals and my parents. The word ‘resilience’ has been thrown around a lot and it’s fitting here too. The community has indeed become increasingly resilient through their experiences. My parents too. In Finland, where we are from, there is a word known as ‘Sisu.’ It describes certain traits and behaviours in Finnish people. Sisu is a strength, a courage, a resilience, a persevering power, a stoic determination and it was something my parents reminded me of during my visit.
My time with my family was spent slowly, moving day to day at their pace. Each morning I woke up with the sun, to kangaroos on the lawn, a mama feeding her joey, the peaceful melody of birdsong, the invigorating roar of the ocean, and crisp, clean air filling my lungs. I baked with my mum, learning how to make traditional Finnish sourdough rye bread. We picked flowers from her garden and made Anzac day flower wreaths, commemorating those who have fallen and truly sacrificed for our freedom. I walked along the lake each day with my dad, saying hi to the horses and taking in those beautiful lake and ocean views. We talked and hugged and laughed and eventually cried as we said our goodbyes.
This reunion was everything we all needed. My heart is full and I know it won’t be so long until I see my mum and dad again. If these past years have taught me anything, it’s to cherish all the moments, cherish what’s right in front of me, and trust that while there is so much uncertainty in this life experience, embracing it and remembering my inner ‘Sisu’ has been my guiding light.
With love and gratitude,