Rouve: Community Member, District Nurse, and Volunteer

[KNOWLEDGE]….Well, the post-growth, it’s so multiple, on so many levels, would be the first thing that I would say.

So I’ll just talk about what first comes to my mind. The first thing that stands out to me is I know my community better. I’ve got to meet people… (I was always very busy because I was a nurse…a lot of people get on a treadmill here in the country, you wave to everybody in the car and think, “I should drop by and have that coffee I promised,” and you never do)…After the bushfire, both through my work and really getting to understand people, I think I became more included.

.. I feel there’s been a lot more understanding and people getting together who never would have ever gotten together before…I think people got a greater understanding of everybody else.

[NEW ACTIVITIES] …For example, we set up a Stitch ‘n’ Chat group after the fires. It started because of the fires. It would never have started before. It actually started in a strange way in that we were working at the recovery centre and I would come out as an outreach community health nurse to just try and see what the needs were in the community and take them back or engage. We were sorting through wool and things, and then some of us started to knit – I never had knitted before – so that’s one positive thing, I’ve learned to knit. …it was a really good way to, you know, knit one, stitch one, don’t drop the stitch… to actually just be focused on something else too, and I think that’s why people picked it up. It was quite therapeutic. You could immerse in it.

And then it started, people started embroidering how they were feeling about things. What intrigued me was, in terms of more material things, in the environment it was the environment they’d lost. I didn’t see anybody really embroider hardly ever any material things they’d lost. It was all trees, birds, symbols of people lost too. Somebody did 11 crosses on a hill because 11 people died in this area. So there was a lot of expression through that, but all of them had these – a flower or some sign of hope – in the embroidery. The first flower that came out in this area was a belladonna…When the first very bright pink belladonnas came out amongst the black they resembled hope for people. And a lot of people put that into their embroidery.

I’ve got, for example, pictures when people were embroidering or even myself. They were all of the burnt bush or things, and then how things grew and how people’s vision grew and how their optimism grew as well. It sounds stupid that you’d be optimistic, but there were a lot of beautiful things and beautiful things that people did within that devastation.

[GRIEF AND BEREAVEMENT]…it really is easier in the end to lose material things, you can address that and replace it, you can’t replace a person. …people sort of side track from something that’s too difficult.

…I think that the people in the Stitch n’ Chat group are much more together because they have talked about that. There has been permission to talk about it. Yes, a lot of growth through that group…people could speak through their embroidery and their creativity in the pictures and, as I’ve said, the thing was symbols of people who’d been lost in the area and loss of community as huge messages to me, images of that, and then also, a lot of people did embroideries of angels, so it’s a lot of things and new life – metaphorical things within the work.

Within the Stitch ‘n’ Chat group there was always sort of an understanding not to judge people, that their losses were all what they were.

[TIME] …five years on the Stitch ‘n’ Chat still operates. Five years on I’d say there’s still about 30 (people) all together. Every Friday, and every second Wednesday night, there’s – it might be even as many as 40, it varies week to week but there will always be about 10 to 15.

[OTHER DISASTERS]…Now they’ve gone on to be doing stuff to help other people who’ve been through disasters. For example, when New Zealand had that event (the earthquake) and then there was a mining disaster too before that. We organized to have 13 women who’d lost their partners to come over, and we embroidered these bags, and they have birds on them.

…I think there’s not enough of rebuilding emotionally and personally. I really think the Stitch ‘n’ Chat group has been that. And then using that knowledge, even if it was a skill of learning to sew, like I have, and so being able to make something for somebody else as a token of ‘we understand you’re bereaved and your loss’. You know, even to do that, we’ve linked with people right across to America… So it was really far-reaching.

[SKILLS]…Personally too, on a very deep level, I feel I’ve got another wisdom. I used to get quite impatient or angry about things or overly persistent before the fires. Now I prioritize what I’m going to worry about.

And I would not have liked this to happen, and I think I’m still processing what has happened. But I do recognize a growth in me. It actually brought… my partner and I had been separated for 20 years, we had a good relationship, but he’s now moved back…After the fires I know there was a lot of divorces but in our case it brought us together. We had to pull together as a family and forget some things that I worried about in our relationship, it’s not important anymore…. real prioritization of what is important.

….it is overwhelming but there is so much wisdom and knowledge that you gain from it and so much you think you can add to it…There were some very positive lessons and I think that’s a very important part and it is part of our national framework and our international frameworks that we should be bouncing forward and learning how people can best do that, but also embracing when people are and those opportunities – acknowledging when people have bounced forward in terms of their professional perspective or personally, and celebrate that.