DAYS after fighting the devastating fire that destroyed homes and up-ended lives, Dereel residents are taking the first steps towards healing.
Yesterday, about 100 people gathered at the Dereel Community Hall, and now the recovery centre, for a barbecue.
Organised by the Golden Plains Shire, the event brought residents, CFA firefighters, volunteers and charity organisations like Centacare together for a meal, a hug and a reassuring smile.
Golden Plains Shire mayor Jenny Blake said it was about thanking those who had lent a hand.
“Today is about saying thank you to those who have helped,” Cr Blake said.
“We had wonderful assistance from our neighbouring shires.
“(But) there is a very long journey ahead.”
The blaze, which began about midday last Wednesday, destroyed 16 houses and 18 outbuildings and burnt 1300 hectares south-east of Dereel.
Dereel resident and CFA media liaison officer Kim Stanley-Eyles said people had lost a lot in the devastating fire but had also gained a strong sense of community.
“There are new residents who now know the name of every road,” Ms Stanley-Eyles said.
“We know our neighbours’ names and who has how many animals and kids.
“The fire has brought us very close.”
Yesterday, the largely sombre crowd ate from a spread that included hot cross buns, Easter eggs, biscuits and sausages provided by the Leigh District Lions Club.
Ms Stanley-Eyles said the overwhelming mood in the community was exhaustion.
“We are tired,” she said.
“It has been a long weekend.”
The Easter long weekend, she said, meant that despite excellent support, many of the shire’s specialist recovery officers were away on a break.
That meant the community had to start some of the recovery process themselves.
“Now we can hand it over to the professionals,” Ms Stanley-Eyles said.
“And we can start the process of grieving and healing.”
Ms Stanley-Eyles’ own house was saved while she and her husband were out fighting fires.
She said some residents had decided to move on but there were those who were staying in the area.
“I am not going anywhere,” Ms Stanley-Eyles said.
“I have seen the community at its best. Its when the chips are down that you see what people’s soul is truly like.”