In her own words: Merran Guest

Merran and her husband Peter built a second home on the outskirts of Marysville six years before the fires struck, and dreamed of retiring among its lush greenery.

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But their house – and those of her neighbours and friends – were reduced to ashes on February 7 last year.

The couple insist they have been luckier than most – they had another home, in Melbourne, to return to, but they still hope to return to Marysville.

Listen to Merran tell her story

“We were just driving through, and we went to the real estate agent and said we’re interested in buying a block of land with a view. We went and had a look at one, and fell in love.

“Marysville is a really magic place – it’s a cliche, but it happens to fit the picture. It is – it was – a beautiful little hamlet, set in a rainforest, surrounded by trees and bush.

“It was always very green, with lots of bushwalks and beautiful rivers everywhere.

‘No clues’ to scale of disaster

“We’d been there six years by last February, and we were gradually spending more and more time up there.

“On the day we had a party to go to in Melbourne, and we knew it was going to be a horrible day – it was windy and hot and really unpleasant – so we decided to go back early.

“We went home to Melbourne; we were listening to the radio, and I was on the CFA website all the time, but we were pretty relaxed when we went out that evening that Marysville was ok – which of course it wasn’t.

“But at that stage no one who wasn’t in it had any idea just how ferocious this fire was.

“There was nothing that gave us any indication that Marysville was in big trouble until we got a phonecall the next morning.

“At about 7o’clock, a neighbour rang and said, ‘You’ve lost your house, everything’s gone, the whole town has been destroyed’.

“My husband came in and told me, and I said, ‘What do you mean, Marysville’s gone?’

“I thought, ‘I’m not going to believe one phonecall’, so I rang another friend, who is in the SES, and lives right in the centre of town, and he said, ‘The whole town’s gone’.

Holiday home destroyed

“And that’s when it sank in, that this was a major catastrophe.

“We didn’t lose any close friends – thank God – but there was a lot of anxious ringing around trying to work out who was ok, and who wasn’t.

“It was a weird, weird time. Everyone was in shock. They closed the town off for weeks, which was hard, really, really hard.

“We went on the bus tour of the town, but we didn’t get back to our place for about six weeks.

“We’d studied the aerial photos of the town, and we suspected that there’d be absolutely nothing left, and there wasn’t. It was completely destroyed.

“In a macabre kind of way it was fascinating to see just what a fire of that intensity can do – you just wouldn’t think some things could melt. You’d see stuff and think ‘What was that?’

“I’m sure we were less traumatised by it all than we would have been [had we been in town], although we were still pretty traumatised.

Plans to return to Marysville

“We were so lucky in that we had somewhere else to go, and we didn’t lose any close friends – there were people who were going to funerals all the time, which was horrible – so on the scale of things…

“But I’ve discovered that grief doesn’t work like that – the size of your loss is not reflected in the amount of trauma that you have. Even though we didn’t lose as much as somebody else, that doesn’t mean we’re not traumatised and they coped really well.

“Our first reaction was ‘We’re going back. We love it so much, we love the town, the people, the setting, the town needs us, so we’re going back.’

“And then you start to vaccilate a bit – should we buy a block of land somewhere else? Where else? And we just kept coming back to Marysville.

“So we’re building a bigger house. When we built the old place we didn’t have grandchildren, and now we have five, so we’re building a family home.

‘We’re excited about going back. The town will come back, the greenery is coming back.

Boost to community spirit

“Marysville is pretty deserted at the moment. There’s not many people living there, because there were only 32 houses left after the fires, so there’s mostly just daytrippers, and that doesn’t make a town.

“I find it a bit depressing, all the landmarks have gone, and there’s just black blocks of land, but it will take time, and I just hope when we go back we’re patient enough to wait for it to all come back.

“Since the bushfires we have met so many more people – that’s the one thing that’s come out of the fires, they’ve really brought the community much closer together.

“There’s a lot of community spirit – you realise how strong the community was, and people you didn’t know, you talked to, because now you had something in common.

“You connected with people you would have just walked past in the street: All of a sudden everyone was friends with everyone.”

Listen to Merran recall the events of Black Saturday – and the weeks that followed – by clicking below.

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Part-time Marysville resident Merran explains why she and her husband have decide to return to the fire-hit town. Click below.

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Listen to Merran describe what Marysville looks like a year on, and her hopes for the town’s future. Click below.

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