With the streets in bloom and the cold days of a particularly bleak winter behind us, it’s time for Canberrans to turn their attention to the coast. Dreaming of long days and warm, salty air, it’s time to pull out the shorts to reveal legs that have only seen the light of a bathroom, pack the car and head down the mountain.
And, for those of us who live on the coast, this is usually the time for us to prepare to share our beautiful towns, our beaches and bush with you. We get ready to see our shops filled with strange faces and plan where to park our cars. (You know, when you guys aren’t here, we can get a park anywhere.)
But, this year is different. As the days warm up and the dreaded northwesterly winds return, memories of last summer are already flooding back. Soon as each memorable date arrives we will be thinking ‘this time last year’.
One by one the anniversaries will come: when the East Lynne store was saved, Durras was burned, the Kings Highway closed for the first time, and on it will go until New Year’s Eve when the true horror and scale of what was happening around us was unleashed and was to continue down the coast and beyond for another long month.
The scars and pain remain close. We said at the time everything had changed and it has. This year, when you pop over the Clyde you will see for yourself where the forest burned so hot the land remains barren. Your beloved holiday playground isn’t the same anymore. We want you to visit, our businesses need you, and we kind of want the normality of a summer crowded with Canberrans but it will really help if you can be different with us and for us.
In the last half-year since we saw you, we have been busy, rebuilding some of the 500 houses that were destroyed, burning our piles of dead and burned trees, replanting and fencing but without the opportunity to gather and mourn what we lost. COVID-19 put a stop to that.
Our kids lost a whole summer to bushfires, and didn’t get a normal school year either. Our sports, our music and our community just stopped. Like yours, but all through the worry and disruption of the pandemic, we have had to live in our burned landscape, unable to forget last summer.
When you come and walk in the forests, you will see the green fur of epicormic growth and new bushes springing from the ground, the birds have started to come back but there is still not a bug or a lizard to see. Our ecosystem will take years to recover. If it gets a chance. If drought and fire wasn’t enough, don’t forget we had a flood too, so even our beautiful beaches have been reshaped.
So what can you do for us?
This year, as you head down the hill towards the coast, turn your thoughts to our reality over the past 12 months. Please don’t turn up and act like you own the place, not this year. Yes, we know, you have been coming here for years, and you love it too but this year, we are all just a bit fragile.
Please, try not to get impatient if you have to wait, if you can’t get a reservation or you can’t buy what you want. Observe Glady’s COVID-safe guidelines. Don’t make our stressed and worried business owners police your groups in fear that they will get shut down and lose money again.
Go gently with us. You can pick us out, the locals, our summer shirts are a little faded from year-round use and our legs less luminous. This year we may need a little more love, just a smile and a nod that you share a love of our home and you understand what we have been through.
As Canberra has grown up and more people settled on the coast, the connection between coast and capital is growing to be a more healthy two-way relationship. This summer, with some thought and care and a show of solidarity, our bonds can grow. Come and join us, share the warm, salty air and the beauty that still surrounds us, but please share our grief and our loss too. It’s times like these that we can all learn to live together.