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    Wombat Bill
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May contain graphic sexual content

Catering With Benefits (3) - An Appetite for More - 54. New Year’s Eve

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By New Year’s Eve the town of Mallacoota was entirely hemmed in by fire, the road out blocked and mobile phone reception was patchy. The bushfire was big enough to generate its own weather, including lightning that was starting fires in surrounding areas. Fanned by strong winds, the fire was now bearing down on the town at a frightening speed.

For the first time in Victoria's history, a state of disaster was declared by Premier Daniel Andrews. The declaration gave the state government powers to evacuate residents and towns in six designated danger areas.

People on the outskirts of Mallacoota were ordered to evacuate to the Mallacoota Hall. Desmond and Virginia stayed put and felt reasonably safe as the lake was in their view. Their nearness to water made them feel safer than those on the western edge of town.

<>

By afternoon, the bushfire burning on the outskirts of Mallacoota had already destroyed several houses, evacuations were underway and a medical centre had been set up.

On radio, CFA chief officer Steve Warrington reported "It is pitch black. It is quite scary in that community. They right now are under threat. But we will hold our line and they will be saved and protected. Some people have chosen to stay and defend their houses, rather than sheltering on the foreshore. Trucks will not be able to reach and protect them. Literally as we speak the advice I am receiving from the fire ground is houses are visibly being lost. But the main CBD has been saved. However I would seriously advise all residents to proceed to the foreshore of the lake or the beach."

The Defence Minister Linda Reynolds announced just after 5pm that the navy and air force would deploy to Victoria to help communities including a possible evacuation at Mallacoota.

Forest Fire Management Victoria issued an alert because the fire put heavy demands on tap water and affected supply in surrounding towns. The alert also advised that bottled water was available from the local IGA supermarket free of charge, and additional supplies were on their way. All residents and visitors were advised to restrict their water use immediately to essential use only.

Early evening, Mallacoota was under ember attack. Then the power failed.

As the red glow of the fire got closer and the smoke made breathing very difficult, even in the house, Virginia became almost hysterical. It was then, Desmond decided it would be unwise to try to spend the night in the house. He knew they would get no sleep anyway so he declared “Virginia, my love, It’s time to abandon the house and evacuate to the lake shore.”

“Oh Des, I’ve been waiting for you to say that. I’m so scared, I just want to get to safety. We really should have gone earlier in the week when that Commissioner guy said we should. But no, you said the message was only for campers. What damn difference does it make why we’re here, the fire won’t care.”

“I’m sorry you feel like that Virginia, I was just trying to make our Christmas the best I could under difficult circumstances.”

“I suppose you were, but look what a mess we’re in now.”

<>

The lake was not far away, so they drove as close as possible, but when the road became blocked by abandoned cars they took their meagre belongings and walked down to the foreshore.

Desmond noticed Virginia’s phone blinking and called out to her “Virginia, you have a message or missed call to attend to.”

“It’s a text from Jonathan. He wants to know if I am safe. Maybe I should call him.”

“I know he’ll be worried about you, but if you call him, remember you’ll use more battery power than sending a text. I don’t know where we can recharge down here.”

“I think I’ll make a brief call to reassure him and then keep him updated by text after that.”

It was mid morning in France when Virginia called Jonathan.

“Thank god you called back Nia, I was getting worried when I couldn’t contact you. Where are you?”

“We’ve just come down to the lake.”

“What lake?”

“The lake at Mallacoota.”

“For fuck’s sake woman, what are you still doing there?”

“We can’t get out, the road is closed, but we’re safe for now.”

“That’s not good enough, I’ll charter a helicopter for you.”

“Thanks Jon, I should have thought of that. Just hold a minute.” Virginia then spoke to Desmond. “Des, Jonathan’s going to get a helicopter for us.”

“No, he isn’t. Firstly private aircraft have been banned from the area all week to keep the skies free for fire-fighting and forces rescue aircraft and even if that were not the case all aircraft have now been grounded because of the smoke.”

Then returning to Jonathan “Jon we can’t do that because of the smoke, nothing’s allowed in.”

“Fuck, what a disaster. Are you sure you are safe?”

“Yes, we are and they’ll get us out some way. But I really must go, Des says I need to conserve my phone battery, we can’t charge it down here. I’ll text you if there’s any news.”

“Ok Nia, take care and remember....I still love you....in my own way.”

“Thank you Jonathan, bye for now.”

<>

Lachlan continued to monitor social media posts, which included,

‘It’s pitch black outside now so I am a little bit scared - we are getting another attack coming through.’

‘Both of my children have shown respiratory issues because of four days of constant smoke. We need to get out of the smoke but there are no planes or choppers going anywhere. We are still stuck’.

‘Mallacoota is now shrouded in a burgundy darkness. It's so dark that people are almost invisible.’

***

Desmond and Virginia joined around 4000 people gathered on the foreshore in the hope of escaping the approaching inferno.

To protect them the CFA fire trucks formed a ring around people on the foreshore as a new emergency warning was issued. The fire front was expected to enter Mallacoota within half an hour. The Bureau of Meteorology's weather gauge at Mallacoota was showing 49 degrees, with winds gusting up to 80km/h.

Virginia was so out of her element and totally terrified. “Des, are we going to survive this?” she asks in hope.

“Yes, my love, we are near the water, the CFA has us surrounded and I’m sure there will be rescue teams here soon.”

Virginia was wearing a scarf around her face to protect from the smoke, as masks were unavailable. She now pulled it over her eyes, as well, so that she didn’t have to look at the horrified looks on the children nearby.

The smoke had grounded helicopters being used to airlift people, so their only hope now was a wind change, which was not predicted, or a water rescue. The crowd continued to swell and by nightfall there were close to five thousand people gathered on the shores of the lake and the ocean.

Mallacoota rescue coordinator Don Ashby told the ABC that the CFA is instructing people on the foreshore they should get under the water if the fire trucks activate their sirens.

‘You can see nothing. It is like the darkest, darkest night. You can hear the fire, it's roaring away. We’re getting a lot of ash falling. Unless you’ve got a mask you’ll be in trouble. A lot of people are using wet tea towels. And that works, but you cannot get enough air in.’ he added.

A woman on the foreshore told Virginia "My home is in the fire path. I won't have a home. That's just how it's going to be. We have to try to remain calm and I'd rather be alive than be at home."

“I know how you feel, buildings can be replaced, that’s why we have insurance.”

“Maybe you do, we can’t afford the premiums they charge now if you’re in a fire prone area.”

“Oh my god, you mean if your house burns, you’ll have nothing?”

“That’s how it is I’m afraid.”

“I feel so sad for you, I do hope your house is spared.”

“Thank you for your concern.”

<>

There were now at least 10 fires, including a house fire, in the main street of Mallacoota. People down on the beach were tweeting out images showing a blood red sky.

On the other side of Virginia, a visitor, wrapped in a blanket, tweeted ‘We can see the fire coming towards us, there's hot embers flying through the air - small ones, it sounds like a freight train. It's completely black like midnight. There's just a weird red glow.’

Gas bottles from caravans on the foreshore were dragged into the ocean to stop them exploding. People were really scared and talk was that the whole town was going to go.

Many of those stuck in the town huddled at the boat ramp where they waited in anticipation.

“What are those explosions?” asked Virginia, as they huddled together.

What they could hear were multiple gas cylinders exploding in the township as the fire reached them. The gas explosions then fed the fire even more.

***

By ten pm, the Party at Divas was in full swing. The three venues had combined for the celebrations. Meals were served in Poppy’s restaurant, entertainment and dancing were held in Divas and Dean’s bar kept the drinks flowing. Ed-Weiner came out of retirement, again and was ably assisted by One-Eata.

“Good evening everyone, and welcome to our New Year’s Eve bash, here at Divas. As the name suggests, this is the home of divas, so as a special treat tonight, you not only get Moi, but you get two divas for the same price. Ladies, gentlemen and others please welcome the future of divas, the beautiful One Eata.”

As she paraded on to the stage, the crowd applauded, she took a bow and said “I’m glad you have your priorities right Ed.”

“How’s that One?”

“Age before beauty always.”

“You bitch how dare you insult me like that, and on my very own stage as well? Where did you get such a loose tongue?”

“From you my old dear.”

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that, for now.”

“That’s unlike you, why?”

“Because I’ve still got some old jokes to tell this drunken lot.”

“You’re right.”

“I usually am, but what in particular?”

“They must be drunk if they’re still laughing at your jokes.”

“Do you remember what happened the last time I was on this stage?”

“No, it must have been totally forgettable. So I suppose you are going to tell me.”

“You betcha arse on it. I sent two men off to emergency with broken ankles.”

“Tripped over trying to run away from your groping hands, did they?”

“They should be so lucky, but no. They were wearing six inch stilettos and trying to imitate me.”

“Oh, I get it. They were imitating you staggering home after a night on the Margaritas.”

“Do you want me to walk off now?”

“I thought you’d never offer.”

As Ed Weiner walked off in a huff, One Eata said “Damn boomers, hard to get rid of, aren’t they? Now I’ve got you to myself, how about a bit of music to liven up this party. Feel free to dance and just ignore me singing my heart out to entertain you.”

Backstage, Raj hit play and the Minus One introduction to Pink’s Get This Party Started got One Eata started. Just as she finished the first verse and started on the chorus, I’m Comin’ Up... an unexpected backup singer and dancer stepped on stage and lip synched while dancing behind One Eata.

When the crowd started to laugh, she continued until the laughter was almost drowning out her vocals. She stopped singing, held up her hand, to indicate the music be stopped and asked “What?” but the crowd just kept laughing. Finally she turned and saw Ed Weiner behind her, standing hands on hips and asked “What are you doing here?”

“Dancing, as you asked.”

“I meant the audience, NOT YOU!”

“Just thought I’d add a little colour to your performance. It lacks something.”

“Mommie Dearest, with an entire rainbow at your disposal, you couldn’t add any colour. You faded away years ago.”

As Ed looked forlorn, the crowd sighed “Awww.”

When One Eata turned to look at the crowd, Ed signalled for the crowd to continue, and they did.

“See.” said Ed, “My audience loves me.”

“Ok, you can join me, but stand up front where I can see you.”

“I’ll stand up front, because that’s where I belong. Hit it Raj.” She called and the music picked from where it left off, in the middle of the chorus.

The crowd loved both Queens and they in turn kept their audience in stitches all night.

Next Chapter - City versus Country

Copyright © 2021 Wombat Bill; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

Virginia and Desmond are in major trouble.  At least they are near the water.

One Eata and Ed Weiner are a dynamic duo.  

The teaser for the next chapter is nice and vague.  It could mean almost anything.  Way to go, @Wombat Bill.  By the way, were you or @Summerabbacat in any personal danger from the wildfires when they were going on?  I am hoping the two of you and your loved ones were safe.

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16 minutes ago, ReaderPaul said:

Way to go, @Wombat Bill.  By the way, were you or @Summerabbacat in any personal danger from the wildfires when they were going on? 

I was not in personal danger, but our property was threatened a number of times. My partner and I evacuated three times in a month, the first being New Years Eve. Each time we took precious personal items and files, just in case. At the time we had two ponies and 4 sheep. We debated as to what we should do for them and decided they were safer in an open paddock, with a dam,  than running loose. The third time we evacuated to my partners's niece's home we really did not think we would be returning. A predicted wind change would have swept the fire towards our property. Fortunately the weather prediction was wrong and our house survived. However 10 houses were destroyed in the next village, only 10ks away. 

Each time before we left, we took food and crates of bottled water to the local volunteer fire brigade for the support team to prepare meals upon their return from duty. We also told them of our departure so they would not have to waist time looking for us if evacuation became compulsory. 

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@ReaderPaulI live in inner-city Sydney, so the only "danger" I and my beloved feline family faced was breathing difficulties from the toxic smoke which blanketed the city for days on end. My various family members live scattered around NSW, both north and south of Sydney, both coastal and inland. One of my brothers and several of his children and grandchildren spent several nights on the beach with all their pets as the fires headed towards their homes. They were very fortunate, particularly so my brother as the fire was in his backyard when the wind changed direction and left the house unscathed. My mother and stepfather who live not far away from him had their beloved dog harnessed and the car packed ready to flee as embers showered from the sky all around them. They too were lucky as the fire did not reach their property, although some embers did set fire to homes nearby if I recall correctly. My family members who live south of Sydney and inland (equidistant between Sydney and Melbourne) were also on high alert as the temperatures soared above 50C on a number of occasions.

@Wombat Bill another devastating chapter; the power of your few carefully chosen words once again creating such horrific images. I don't quite know how you did it, but I felt claustrophobic and anxious when reading of the bushfires relentless surge towards Mallacoota. I almost heard the sound of the exploding gas cylinders. I sobbed again for the wildlife.

Edited by Summerabbacat
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I feel sorry for Virginia and Desmond, they are in so much trouble, but youngave us a glimpse into the trouble that Australia suffers when they have these fires.

The New Year's Party was awesome.

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Fascinating juxtaposition between the horrors of the fire and the party atmosphere of the others.

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Interesting to see the contrast between the dire situation by the lake and the gayety at Divas. If the fire wasn’t bad enough before now they’ve had fuel added to it which doesn’t bode well for it going out anytime soon and we’re sadly reminded of the stark reality of how someone like Virginia would undoubtedly have fire insurance yet many other people in the same situation wouldn’t. While their lives are the most important things not having a house to return to is no small thing either. Like with the firefighters this may inspire Virginia to get involved locally such as seeking donations from her rich friends to help those who’ve lost their homes.

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@ReaderPaul, probably every Australian has a bushfire story, even our city friend @Summerabbacat.

@chris191070,  the party's not over yet.

@starboardtack, great to have you on board. I am pleased you and @NimirRaj notiiced the contrast between between city and country, and well spotted @NimirRaj for picking up the difference between the resources of the rich and not so rich. 

These chapters about the bushfires really had be blocked at times. That is why there was such a long break between chapters last month. The seed for these chapters was planted along time ago by @ReaderPaul, fertilised back when Virginia bought at Mallacoota and watered for many months till it finally bloomed this month. 

I feel somewhat relieved that it is almost over, it has been difficult to write. But thank you all for your encouragement and remaining loyal during my period of writer's block. 

 

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@Summerabbacat, I am glad you did not suffer in a major way with the bushfires.  I am glad you and your felines made it through, and I am glad your relatives made it through, as well.

@NimirRaj, you and @starboardtack hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head on the contrast between the city and the much more rural area.

@Wombat Bill, I am glad you and your partner and property were mostly safe, though under the continued stress of evacuation and worrying about the animals.

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