As the fires closed in on Marysville, Christine and her husband Ken were kept busy evacuating guests, and fully expected to be back at the B&B within hours.
Instead, with the motel in ruins, they’ve turned their hand to running the town’s caravan park, and are determined to help rebuild the town, and the community, they love.
Listen to Christine telling her story
“We’ve lived in Marysville for five years – it was our ‘green change’. We say that the kids grew up and we left home.
“We’d never heard of Marysville, we had to find it on a map, but as we drove up the Black Spur Road, we just said, ‘Whatever’s at the end of this, we want it!’
“It was such a beautiful little village, and the motel was a very quaint little 10-room motel. We just fell in love – within half a day – and 48 hours later we were signed, sealed and delivered.
“Business was good, and we always said that 2009 was going to be our year – we understood it, we knew what we were doing, and we were really going to make a go of it in that fifth year – and instead we lost it.
CFA order to evacuate town
“We became very much part of the community here. Ken became president of the Lions Club, I got very involved in the tourism industry, and we just really got involved, and we loved it here.
“We realised [February 7] was going to be hot and windy, and yes, there could be a fire in the area, but never really thought how severe that could be for us if a fire did come this way.
“We still had bookings, we didn’t think to cancel them, people still came up – I guess you could say we were little blase.
“By mid-afternoon we were sitting in front of the air conditioner doing paperwork when we got a phonecall saying had we seen the smoke in the area?
“That was the first we’d known about it. So we kept an eye on that, and kept our guests together until we knew what was going on.
“We had some trouble trying to find out what was going on, so my husband went up to the CFA office, and the captain very clearly said to him to evacuate.
“We told our guests how to get out – the only way out at that stage was towards Alexandra, got them out, and Ken started to pack while I spoke to some other people in town and said, ‘We’ve been told to get out, you guys need to pack up and go too’.
Huge clouds of smoke
“We left town at about 6.45pm, as the fire hit Marysville. At that stage we didn’t realise that the fire was so close, but we’d seen the huge black cloud of smoke.
“We had always said we would never stay and defend. To us, life was much more important than a building, even though all our livelihood was in there.
“But we left the town still thinking we were going to come back to it.
“At no stage, until about 11pm that night when word started to come back to us that the town had been wiped out, did we think we’d lose the town.
“Fire could go on around it, but not go through the town – it just wasn’t in your perception that you could lose everything here.
“We went to Alexandra. By that time there was no power, and we only had enough petrol to get there. All the roads were closed and there was nowhere else to go.
“We sat in the middle of an Oval for the night. By the time we got to the school there it was packed, and the gym was full of smoke, so we thought it was better to be outside.
Home, motel reduced to rubble
“Rumours started to come through fairly late at night, that most of the town was gone, but we didn’t understand what that could mean.
“Then a friend got a call from her son who was fighting the fires, to say she had lost most of her property, and the following morning he rang and said our place had gone too.
“Throughout the night I kept thinking, ‘There’s hope, there’s hope, there’s hope’, but how stupid is that, if everybody else’s is gone, why would ours still be standing?
“A few days later, we picked up the paper and there was an aerial shot of Marysville, and we were able to identify our place – that was the final clincher, that it was definitely gone, that we were looking at a bunch of rubble.
“Twenty-two of my friends died that day. We can cry buckets of tears – and we do – but that’s the way it is. Twenty-two friends died, and I remember them every day.
“We made the decision a few weeks later that we were not going to be victims of the fire, that we were survivors of the fire and we had to make sure we survived it.
“We went to stay with our daughter in Daylesford, and on the third time that we were evacuated out of Daylesford from the threat of fires, we decided it was safer back in Marysville.
New business, new opportunities
“Eventually, we decided that we were going to take the insurance money and leave Marysville, and go over towards Daylesford and buy a business over there.
“It took a fair bit of heartache, but that’s what we decided. And then the week we made that decision, we were asked if we would be interested in taking over the caravan park.
“We said no, because we thought it was too big, and then we discussed it with lots of people, and eventually said ok – and we’re very happy that we did.
“It’s a massive project. We still own the land where the bed and breakfast was, but we don’t plan to rebuild yet.
“We want to spend a couple of years getting the park up and running, and after that, we’ll see.
“We believe we’ve made the right decision to stay and be a part of the rebuilding of the town.
“We’ve got a lot of houses being rebuilt now, which is fantastic. Every day we see more people in town and another house happening – it’s so exciting.
“We’ve got an interesting opportunity to create something here – we have to accept that it’s not going to be like it was before, but we can still create a beautiful town.”
Listen to Christine explaining what happened to her on Black Saturday
Christine explains why she loves Marysville – and why she was determined to return