May I start with my sincere condolences to the families and friends who have lost loved ones in the NSW bushfires. Our thoughts and prayers are with you in your darkest hours. People's lives and livelihoods have been lost and sections of our towns and villages decimated.
When you see natural disasters on television and social media, your heart breaks for those people affected. Now it seems, it is the people of the South Coast whose hearts are breaking. At a time when we usually see an influx of visitors, we saw a mass exodus unlike anything this country has experienced.
At the moment, it is day to day. On January 4, when conditions deteriorated and the threat loomed, it was hour by hour. On New Year's Eve, it was a case of minute by minute, as I tried to keep my mother and children safe while not worrying about my husband, our home, and all the people I love.
I look out my front door, the smoke ever-present, as it has been across our country, and I see a blackened carpet of burnt landscape.
Not too far from my back door, I can see where fire taunted our fence. I can also see where the distance of an Olympic sized swimming pool is all that separates us from the closest house that didn't survive the inferno. It sits in ruins and is a reminder of that life-changing day.
Power was restored to our neighbourhood on Monday, it had been out for 10 consecutive days. For those who haven't experienced a power outage for that length of time, it probably seems hard to fathom. Despite all of the technological advancement the world has seen, it seems primitive in this day and age that this can even happen.
Those computers we walk around with in our pockets became about as useful as paperweights, with no service, no internet access and no power. At one stage I couldn't even call triple zero when some logs in a vacant lot near our house flared up on New Year's Day!
I can't help but think that our equipment, systems and processes no longer withstand emergencies like this, and unfortunately emergencies like this are no longer few and far between.
Even though the situation has eased and is not as dire as it was two weeks ago, it is certainly taking its toll on people mentally, physically and emotionally. I suspect it is far from over with plenty of summer still to come.
I want to thank the people I asked to pray for us at the height of the crisis on New Year's Eve, some of them in Griffith. It was then the sky changed to a hellish red, the smoke was choking, and visibility was so low that it was dangerous to drive. To anyone who messaged me and I was unable to respond because of no service or low battery, we are OK now.
I owe a great deal of gratitude to my husband Steve, who spent five hours defending our home, mostly from the roof, with an abrasion on his eye that he sustained that morning when the black leaves and ash rained down. I am also forever grateful to the firies who descended on our street at just the right time and who saved people and property across. I will never be able to say thank you in person, but I hope each one of you know how much of a difference you make.
There are a lot of those who are doing it tough. Everyone knows people who have lost their home, or who have been badly affected by these fires. There are countless others who are traumatised. It might be some time before we see the full effects. There are people right now who are hurting; even the strong ones have their limits. Some people are still in shock, and for the ones who have lost their homes and precious possessions, they are trying to piece together what's left and where they go from here.
The sounds of sirens and choppers have subsided, but keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe, hydrated, fed, calm and pre-occupied is now what consumes us. To those who have already donated, from the celebrities to the men and women on the street, your generosity does not go unnoticed.
You will hear a lot about the Australian spirit, as you so often do in these times. Right now that spirit is required to continue supporting communities and individuals who are hurting beyond measure.