The rollercoaster of emotions that I have experienced and will continue to experience since last Tuesday are virtually indescribable – from the depths of sadness to utter elation, solidity to tears – my heart has been torn down and re-built with several new, harder, stronger layers...something akin to re-building an onion.

It began as I approached the area on Tuesday, 14th April. The 10 to 15 kilometres between St Andrews and Kinglake you are literally driving through a valley that’s in the shadow of death. The roads are no wider than about 10 metres and both sides are surrounded by the most barren vista – trees completely burnt out, the ground black – it’s like a horror movie where you expect the Grim Reaper to appear, although sadly, he’s already been and cut his swathe of destruction.

Kinglake Discrimination

BUSHFIRE AFTERMATH: A photo showing the nature of the fire which swept through Kinglake on 'Black Saturday', burning some homes to ground while leaving others untouched. 

"MATES HELPING MATES"

Global Care was one of the first relief agencies engaged after Black Saturday to enter the ravaged town of Kinglake and has gone on to become the lead relief agency for Kinglake and Kinglake West.

Plenty Valley Christian Outreach Centre Pastor, Craig Anderson - who is also the police chaplain for the Whittlesea area and is the local Global Care coordinator - contacted Global Care's National Administration Centre straight after the bushfire disaster. 

The organisation mobilised almost immediately, placing Pastor Russell Wright on the ground in Kinglake.

Since establishing the base in the centre of Kinglake, Global Care has become an essential support to the Murrindindi Shire Council, Victorian Police, GROCON (the contractor charged with the Bushfire cleanup), VBRA (Victorian Bushfire Recovery Authority) and the local community - among others.

Essentially, any request that falls outside the scope of those agencies is directed to Global Care.

To date, the projects completed by Global Care include co-ordinating a water tank cleaning and re-filling database (estimated to be a $1.5 million project); assisting with the management of dangerous trees; allowing residents back to their properties; sewerage mapping for a temporary housing project; cutting and distributing firewood; management of a local café for the owner devastated by the fires and providing general counselling services to residents - amongst a whole host of other tasks undertaken.

Global Care's philosophy toward the Bushfire Relief program is 'no is not an answer'. Every request is taken on board - in many cases, residents are at a wit's end and don't know where to turn. 
The Global Care team treats each case on its merit and work through the best way to service the requests and arrive at a solution.

So far, Global Care has received no contribution from the official Red Cross/Government fundraising effort. The relief campaign has been funded from the Global Care movement around Australia and donations received on-site in Kinglake.

It is estimated the re-build of Kinglake will take anywhere between 18 months and two years. Global Care intends to be on-site working hand in glove with the authorities and community to re-establish the town to its former beauty.

- MATT PAYNE

I pictured myself driving along the twists and turns of those roads attempting to escape the fire’s wrath during Black Saturday. It would have literally been hell on earth.

The statistics are incomprehensible – 767 houses have been lost in the wider Kinglake area. In nearby Flowerdale, 324 were burnt to the ground. Just 101 houses in Flowerdale survived nature’s inferno. Those numbers really hit home coupled with the final death toll of 173.

Houses aren’t just burnt out – they are completely razed to a pile of rubble...or nothing at all.

Pleasingly, there are signs of new life forming - one of the most striking things are the patches of bright greenery against the foreboding black background - it signifies nature is moving on, providing hope and new life. Sadly though, the locals are somewhat offended by the new life - nature is moving on, but they are not ready. Yet.

The devastation is all too real when you meet the townspeople. From trying to speak with someone that has lost their house and their neighbours either side (what do you say?) to those who still have their houses - but are gripped by the blanket of grief and shock that has enveloped the township (terror is an oft used term). To offer an encouraging word is difficult, but leaving them with a smile on their face is rewarding.

Regardless of age - from young kids through to grandparents, there’s a common theme between all residents. The fragility is all too evident - despite the brave faces, the tears well at the corner of their eyes when you speak with them about their new life having survived Black Saturday - some with not even the shirt on their back.

Basic human compassion ensures you cannot help but to be touched by the experience.

You cannot go anywhere without being reminded of the terror that invaded this town, which would be incredibly beautiful in full bloom.

The fuel station in the centre of the town - next door to the police station and across the road from the supermarket – has been levelled. The roads in and out of the town - north, south east and west are bordered by burnt out bushland.

One of the more ironic sights as you approach the last few kilometres into Kinglake is the house that has been razed, but the four-burner barbecue still standing - proudly. This is contrasted with next door, where a large pink fluffy animal rests aside what was once the gate. No doubt put there as a memorial. This is real and the sadness is real.

The Global Care workers (the majority of whom are members of the Christian Outreach Centre) speak often of ‘miracles’. Whilst I come from a more traditional Christian background (I believe, but don’t necessarily practice) to comprehend this notion was difficult...it seemed to me things were of coincidence rather than an act of a higher being.

Nevertheless, a few things I experienced left me literally speechless - with absolutely no explanation - a team member (who was also a non-COC person) discovering an untouched porcelain figurine that belonged to the grandmother of a landowner that lost their house was one.

From a personal perspective, the one that was the most difficult to comprehend was the visit from ABC Radio Kinglake to Global Care’s command centre. Not 10 minutes prior, I had been discussing with Russell that we hadn’t managed to gain traction with ABC Radio Kinglake over the nine weeks of the relief effort and the reasons why. This came after the Today Show’s return to Kinglake the morning after my arrival - which I put down to coincidence. 

Perhaps not?

It is rewarding to see the effect that Global Care has on the community. The motto is ‘Mates helping Mates, Together we will rebuild.’ Regardless of who you speak with, they are respectful of the work that the organisation is doing in the area.

Global Care has managed to position itself as an essential part of the town. Its base is first cab off the rank opposite the police station and next to the town library - which is currently acting as a central hub for essential services. 

Global Care is the only relief agency in the centre of Kinglake and everybody filters their requests through the small portakabin.

Amazingly, Global Care has infiltrated each and every area of services being provided to Kinglake without a single cent of Government financial assistance or assistance from the official fundraising effort - despite the official agencies leaving long ago. Funding has come from the individual branches of Global Care and offerings from some locals that drop by.

People have come from all over Australia to volunteer. A girl from Brisbane headed back while I was there to quit her (very decent) job and come back down to Kinglake full time to volunteer for as long as it takes. There are some powerful stories to go with the powerful imagery.

Kinglake Burnt Mountain

BLACKENED COUNTRY: The side of a mountain near Kinglake taken soon after the fires on 7th February.

The rock of the effort is Russell Wright. He’s the first port of call for literally everybody. It’s difficult to quantify or to put into words what he’s achieved in this project and I cannot without a tidal wave of emotion washing over me.

The fire has torn through the fabric of the town, yet the spirit of everybody here is admirable - pride and loyalty (my old high school motto!) are the cornerstones - Aussie flags flying proudly on most properties the visual.

From a personal perspective, it was very difficult for me to work out how I could strategically add value to what Global Care is doing in Kinglake using my skill set. I wouldn’t know a nut from a bolt. I am not a person who could wield an axe to prepare firewood.

Nevertheless, I’ve always been brought up with the attitude that if you ask a question, the worst the answer could be is ‘no’ - and Global Care’s other modus operandi is ‘No is not an answer’.

Therefore, I am going to work towards securing the essential services we need to continue Global Care’s work in Kinglake - flights, hire cars, telephones, BBQ gas, road building equipment and operators, tree specialists.

If you know of anyone in your network - or your network’s network - who can provide basically anything but ‘material aid’ (food, clothing and so on - there are huge stockpiles of these items already), ask them to contact me for a proposal and a list of what Global Care needs to get this town back on its feet again.

In the week before coming to Kinglake, I tried to prepare myself mentally, physically and emotionally. Nothing prepared me for what I’ve experienced. The sense of foreboding that grips you from when you see the remnants of what used to be a house for the first time to meeting residents and listening to their stories ensures this is a life changing experience.

Although for locals, the invasion of tourists and strangers is still a bit hard to take, its an experience that is very cleansing for the soul of any Australian that has been touched by this awful tragedy. It’s something that’s had a profound effect on me and I’d urge anyone to assist wherever they can.

It’s going to be a slow process (at least two years many are saying). That was my first visit to Kinglake. I can assure you it’s not going to be my last.

• You can register to volunteer for Global Care at www.globalcare.com.au. You can also make donations and access regular updates.

Matt Payne is communications coordinator for Global Care Australia, a Christian missions, aid and development organisation established in 1996 under the auspices of the Christian Outreach Centre. Global Care is committed to providing emotion, spiritual and physical support - alongside effective aid relief - in areas of need and is currently undertaking ongoing missionary work in East Africa. It has previously been involved in disaster relief in Asia following the 2004 tsunami and to earthquake victims in The Philippines as well as in Australia. Through local branches in Australia, the organisation provides a diversity of services - ranging from skills training to assistance for single mothers and food parcels to those enduring financial hardship. See www.globalcare.com.au for more information.