The true terror of the fires
The fire was about 500 metres from my parents’ farm when the wind changed direction. They were pretty lucky. It was touch-and-go for a while.
I haven’t been back to Bargo – where I grew up, in the NSW Southern Highlands – since the fires. I’m going there after netball’s bushfire relief game on Sunday.
It will be a bit of a shock. I’ve seen photos of friends’ houses and there’s just nothing standing. A lot of my friends and family friends and a lot of my brother’s football teammates lost their homes or farms.
Even just in our little town, which is tiny, there were about 30 houses gone. And it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. Where we are, Mum says everything’s just black, and at the moment everything’s also flooded, so it’s really weird. One extreme to the other.
I was about nine when my family moved from western Sydney out onto five acres. We got asked by our parents whether we wanted to have another baby brother or sister or whether we wanted to live on a farm. I didn’t ever want another sister, I wanted to be daddy’s only girl, so a farm it was.
I wouldn’t be where I am, playing both netball and AFLW professionally for Collingwood, and representing the Diamonds, if we’d stayed in Sydney. Definitely not.
I always say I’m a country kid, because I was forever outside with my brother Jake kicking a footy on the local oval or shooting hoops pretending to be LeBron James. Funny memories, but the best memories.
‘I still want to cry just thinking about it’
Being in Melbourne when the first big fires hit Bargo in December, I didn’t really understand how bad it was until I started seeing photos of places I actually knew that had either been on fire or had burnt down.
Mum and Dad didn’t let on much about what was happening, to try and keep us calm, but it just made it worse. They just said, ‘Oh the fires are close, but they’re not too close.’ Then the smoke of the fire made its own storm, which was bizarre, and there was a massive lightning strike, which apparently kept starting new fires.
I was on the phone to Mum when there was a lightning strike in front of their place and it started raining for about a minute. It just poured down. Mum started crying, and just to hear how emotional she was and to hear her screaming to my dad, ‘Oh, it’s raining’, I still want to cry just thinking about it, because that was the biggest moment.
For my mum to react like that because it’s raining, it just shows you what it was actually like there.
Scary knowing my home town is in the "to late to leave" state due to Bush fires. Thinking of everyone. Please stay safe family and friends xxx pic.twitter.com/O5G8FAj4jz
— Ashleigh Brazill (@ash_braz) December 19, 2019
As well as pets, we have llamas, pigs, chooks, pigeons, bees for honey – Mum’s Italian, so anything you can eat and cook they’ve kind of got it!
At one stage during the fires, our farm looked like a zoo because people kept moving animals from property to property – just cutting fences, moving them along so they could keep escaping. Mum was sending us photos, and it looked ridiculous, how many animals they had.
That’s what I love about small towns. Mum was like, ‘I can’t even tell you whose animals we have’, but people just kind of stuck together. People that you don’t even know, all of a sudden you’ve known them forever and you’d do anything for each other, so that was pretty cool.
A wall of fire
When the fires got really close, Mum and Dad were with me in Melbourne. My wife Brooke and I were waiting to give birth to Louis, who was due on Christmas Eve, but wasn’t born until January 6th, so it was a pretty hectic time.
My parents didn’t know whether to stay or go back home, but they wouldn’t have been able to get to the farm, anyway, because everything was blocked off.
Jake had come from Sydney to look after the farm, and they lost a fair few animals, a lot of chickens. Just with the heat. Jake was saying that you think it’s the fire that destroys everything, but the heat is just as bad.
When Jake was helping put out little spot fires with his footy teammates, he said he turned around and there was just a wall of fire. He just kept saying, ‘It’s going to have to hit the ocean before it goes out.’ Bargo’s a fair way from the ocean. And when I saw photos and Jake’s videos, I was just like, ‘This is not real life’.
One of our really good family friends, who my mum calls ‘uncle’, has a couple of hundred acres of land and his property and house got burnt and he had a whole shed full of vintage cars that all went. You don’t even think of that sort of thing. You think more of the animals.
And I’m big on photos and taking photos of Louis at the moment, so it’s like, ‘Imagine not having that any more’. It’s the things you can’t get back.
Two sports, one weekend
These days, I’m not used to playing netball in February-March, because it’s AFLW season. This weekend, I’m going to try to do both.
My AFLW team, Collingwood, is playing against Melbourne in the curtainraiser to the AFL’s State of Origin bushfire relief game at Marvel Stadium on Friday night. I’d like to stay and watch the boys play because I think it will be an amazing match.
Then we fly to Sydney on Saturday for netball’s charity game: the Diamonds against the Suncorp Super Netball All-Stars at Qudos Bank Arena on Sunday.
At first the club didn’t want me playing, because we’re halfway through the footy season, and we’re doing well, but I just said to them, ‘This actually means a lot to me’, and as soon as I said that they were like, ‘Great, if you’re happy with it, then we’re good to go.’
It’s still conditional on me pulling up well after Friday night, but I’ll be there, regardless. I’ve got a lot of friends and family coming along, and we all know how important it is.