It was Sunday morning on 8th February 2009 when we evacuated the Kinglake Ranges for the suburbs following Black Saturday.
We were first able to return on Wednesday 11th February 2009. Whilst our home was OK, I had heard that my office, near the centre of town had been destroyed. This was what I found :
I mention this, because, 3 years after this event our business will have finally moved into new (hopefully) permanent premises.
In the interim we have had a couple of different office set ups. For the first 10 months after the fires I had my business operating from my employees' various spare bedrooms. Whilst grateful for the ability to resume operating a business this set up was, at best, a workable short term solution.
After discussions between Kinglake Ranges Business Network and the current Assistant Treasurer, Bill Shorten (then the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Bushfire Recovery) and with support from both Swinburne University, Salvation Army and others, a large portable building was moved to the Kinglake Ranges and refurbished to make usable as offices. In November 2009 the Kinglake Ranges Business Centre was established and we were all able to move in, together as a team again. We shared these offices with a number of other people whose business premises were also destroyed in the Black Saturday fires.
The third anniversary of this event, together with our imminent move to new premises, has caused some reflection on how the business, and me as a business owner, has dealt with the three years.
There difficulties associated with re-establishing a business, together with assisting the recovery process of the community, whilst keeping a keen eye on the possible development of trauma issues within the family, and personally, cannot be underestimated. And whilst these are issues that are now pretty much taken for granted within the bushfire affected communities, they are probably not well understood elsewhere. For those of you interested in gaining an insight, I strongly suggest viewing Then The Wind Changed, a brilliantly constructed documentary shown on ABC television Tuesday night, based around the community of Strathewen, not far from here.
There are obvious differences between losing your house and losing your business premises in a disaster like a fire, but scratch the surface and some similarities exist.
There is a loss of identity, as something that you have spent years building and developing is gone overnight. As a way of combatting this we created a uniform for our practice; just some tops and shirts with our logo on it so that we could still be identified as belonging to our business. This may seem rather superficial now, but back it was the best I could do to ensure that we reminded ourselves that we were still a team, even though we were operating from 4 different houses at the time.
Every single week I remember another thing that our business had that was burnt in the office. Whether it was client documentation (and there was a lot of that!), some family photos, my educational certificates, the wall prints that I received as gifts over the years, spare clothes that I had thrown in the wardrobe at work, just in case, my collection of toby mugs (though a few did survive the fires) or my lego battleship displayed in my office. Possessions are important only in that they form part of and perhaps explain your identity. And whilst most of these things can, and over time will, be replaced, its still a shit thing that they were destroyed in the first place.
There is dealing with the mundane, but maddening issues of insurances, paperwork, government red tape and other such nonsense. We are fortunate that our the Australian Taxation Office have been very supportive of our circumstance in assisting us and our clients as much as possible. The insurance company was as helpful as they could be. Government red tape is, I think the topic for another post. I think other businesses are still having issues here.
The emotional and psychological issues associated with disaster recovery cannot be prepared for beforehand, cannot be properly explained and will take a while to get over. Counselling helps, to a certain extent. Time helps, too.
The moving into new premises (a 3 bedroom cedar house in Kinglake West) allows us to start a new chapter in our business life, and allows us to develop our business identity. I am looking forward to this next stage.
A few thank yous, to finish off. The Kinglake Ranges Business Network, and Robyn Tymms have provided support in a way and manner that I did not expect and very much appreciate. To my clients that have stuck by me (and we have lost quite a few over the years), thanks for your confidence in us.
To my current team Melissa and Denise and also Murray (part of our extended team), thanks for sticking with me, especially during the darkest times. And thanks heaps to my patient wife, Lesley for her support - even when sometimes it wasnt deserved.
The office should be up and running by Monday. We are now located at 1 Peregrine Drive, Kinglake West. Feel free to pop over and have a coffee, or a chat.