Chaplain returns to Strathewen

By Kyabram Free Press

TEN years on, Liz Spicer still struggles to describe what she saw the day she arrived in Strathewen following Black Saturday.

A town devoured by bushfires, the countryside scarred and families left without homes, possessions — and many with aching holes where loved ones used to be.

Liz attended a memorial in Strathewen on Thursday to mark 10 years since the disaster and she was greeted with a familiar eerie feeling.

‘‘When I first went after the fires it was like a war zone where the fathers didn’t come home,’’ she said.

‘‘It was a war against a fire — and the biggest disaster Victoria has seen for a long time, there was just so much loss and death. What I saw and heard haunts me to this day.’’

Liz was among a number of chaplains who arrived in the Strathewen, King Lake and St Andrews district the day after the devastating bushfires.

And who stayed long after the smoke cleared.

‘‘The chaplains remained after a lot of the workers left because they were asked to stay by the locals,’’ Liz said.

‘‘One girl cried when I said I needed to cut my time down and said, ‘Are you going to leave us too? That’s when I decided I’d stay.’’

Released by her school, Liz travelled to the district two days a week for the next two years.

She prayed with them, cried with them and listened to their stories.

For many, she was just the constant presence they needed — a galvanising taste of stability after everything else had crumbled around them.

It was a bittersweet day for Liz as she was reunited with the children, parents and school staff she had grieved with 10 years before.

‘‘It was special, but underpinned with sadness,’’ Liz said.

‘‘It was good to go back there and celebrate rather than cry. But because my connection with them had stemmed from the deaths and trauma of the fires, it was still confronting.

‘‘Marking the occasion is important because people matter, whether still with us or not. It gives everyone a chance to remember and stay strong.’’