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Dunalley: There’s no education like adversity
WET weather and a damp road means a slow drive down to Dunalley, so there’s plenty of time to take in the surrounds. It’s nearing the end of July.
Eucalypts now have moss-like leaves sprouting from their branches and trunks, which would have a magical effect if you didn’t know what had happened there months earlier. And the gums have an unnatural autumn tinge. Although the sparse winter rains have brought on new grass, large areas of black-singed land remain where the January fires have prohibited growth.
There are still the driveways to nothing but a bare patch of ground where someone’s home used to sit. As the road gently slopes down towards the coast towards Dunalley there are signs of construction. New houses being pieced together and large fences enclose a building yard.
The entrance to Dunalley is now marked with a blackboard used to communicate the goings on in the community, and today colourful chalk capital letters say Welcome to our Town.
The famous Dunalley Bakery is open in a new location further along the main road.
The school is past the fire station, which in the wake of the fires was Dunalley Primary School Executive Officer Melinda Blacklow’s office.
It’s been well over six months since the fire ripped through the township, destroying the school, and almost that long since we last visited CPSU Member Melinda.
Temporary is a word Melinda uses a lot to remind herself that Dunalley Primary School will be rebuilt. She’s been in her current office building since early February, just before school started back.
“Hopefully the new school will be started next year ready for us to move back in 2015, term one, which is pretty exciting,“ Melinda says. “It’ll be built up on the hill where it was before.
“Once the new school starts getting built we’ll see some activity up there, which will be great to watch.
“It was pretty amazing that these buildings were put together in 40 days. But it’s definitely temporary! Everyone says “how’s the new school?” – It’s the temporary school! We will get a new school built – something to look forward to.”
The office building is also home to the staff room, from which comes the murmur and activity of a start of term staff meeting. It’s a student free day at the start of term three, so relatively quiet around the school. Melinda’s fresh after two weeks leave, being a 42-week a year worker, and she’s happy to be back for a new term.
Despite the school and her family being impacted on by the fire, Melinda seems focuses on the positives.
“The situation and everything with the fires has made me a better person. I seem to be more tolerant of people and empathetic. I have more patience, and I hope that’s a long term thing.
“It’s certainly been a very challenging and interesting start to the year. While I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, the staff, students and community have made it much better than what it could’ve been. We’re all in the same boat and everyone’s doing it tough.
“Although I don’t have the space I did before, you make do with what you’ve got. It’s the same for everyone, our library is only a quarter of the size it once was, and the library area is also our sick area. And the social workers, psychologists and speech therapists use the space too. It’s a bit of a juggling act to try and find spaces.
“The kids are pretty resilient, some of them are doing it tough but overall they come to school with smiles on their faces.”
Melinda’s slowly getting her office up and running. “At the start of term one, it was pretty tough, and I didn’t know how I was going to get a whole office back up and running from nothing, no data or anything.
“But you just roll with it; you can only do so much in a day. There’s so much support, Teacher Assistants helping out and great admin support as well.
“I’m still to put in a filing system, so I’m using one of those expander files at the moment. So I just keep on slotting things in there until I get a chance to get a system up and running.”
One message Melinda wants to get across to other CPSU Members working at school offices is the importance of taking the backup hard drive offsite, as Dunalley’s was destroyed in the fires.
“It’s a really simple, routine daily task,” Melinda said.
A big cheque from Triabunna District High School that comes from a fundraising bike ride earlier in 2013 takes pride of place on the wall.
A letter from a primary school in New South Wales offering prayers and library books is a touching memento of the outpouring of help from around Australia after the fires.
The 2012 school photo hangs high in the office, taking the place of the original photo that was lost in the fire. KK photos replaced the photos lost in January, which are a precious part of the school’s history.
“There have been a lot of times where you get really emotional. People have been so incredibly supportive, it’s really heart-warming. The principal from Triabunna came with a cheque for eight and a half thousand dollars on the day, and the donation ended up being $10,500. Triabunna’s a community that’s doing it pretty tough, so for them to come out and support us is incredible. Some of the little communities that were affected by the bushfires in Victoria have also been raising funds.
“People driving past on holidays will come in and say “here’s $100”, every little bit helps – people donating books, all sorts of things. It has brought out the best in people.”
Dunalley Primary hasn’t been forgotten since the fires, with support and donations still rolling in. “There are shipping containers full of donated goods for the school.
“There’s a quilting group based on Bruny Island, the Sew ‘n’ Sews, who made quilts for all the children who lost their homes. They got their first names and found out what they liked, cars, animals and things like that, and made these beautiful individual quilts and brought them down and a quilted bag for the mums. So much love went into making those. The kids just love them. That’s just one story, there’s so many, it just continues.”
Melinda’s “boys” the Hawthorn Football Club have also been to visit.
“They brought with them a bag of goodies for me. I sang the Hawthorn song in front of everyone.
“I always sing the Hawthorn song over the PA on a Monday morning if they win a game. You’ve got to have a bit of fun every day. I certainly laugh a lot more than I did, if you don’t laugh you might cry. Things are getting easier day by day.”
Melinda’s parents lost their home in the fires. “Mum and dad are doing okay. They’re living in a caravan and shed. They’ve got a wood heater set up in their shed now and it’s insulated, which keeps them pretty cosy. Their new house has now started to be built; the builder tells them they’ll be in there in September. It’s been quite challenging but they’ve got lots of family around and plenty of support.
“People are slowly getting on with their lives the best they can.”
Melinda still loves her job and the school she once attended as a pupil so getting up in the morning isn’t a chore.
Under her electronic email signature is the saying “There is no education like adversity”. This motto has a special meaning to Melinda since the fire.
“I’ve certainly learnt a lot about myself and others from the devastating experience of the bushfire. For me ‘there is no education like adversity’ is oh so true!”
Read the first article written in late January about Melinda and Dunalley Primary School here.