Stories of the Storm

October 25th, 2021Stories of the Storm

SANDY Scheltema's Stories of the Storm series is supported by Hepburn Shire Council, Trentham & Districts Community Bank and the Trentham Lions Club. The series showcases stories of courage, tenacity, bravery and resilience within the community from people who experienced the terrifying storm of June 10, 2021.

SANDY Scheltema’s Stories of the Storm series is supported by Hepburn Shire Council, Trentham & Districts Community Bank and the Trentham Lions Club. The series showcases stories of courage, tenacity, bravery and resilience within the community from people who experienced the terrifying storm of June 10, 2021.

This piece features Paul Hilder, director of Nursing at Trentham Aged Care (Central Highlands Rural Health).

“I knew it was a windy night. One of my staff rang early in the morning and told me some staff couldn’t get in, some couldn’t get home. About 7am I started to drive in to work from Greendale. I got as far as Barrys Reef and the SES were on the road. I saw powerlines down. Some other blokes and I thought we’d give them a hand. I reckon there were about five or six blokes including me lifting branches and small logs. There were branches over the road; you’d get through, then there’d be more – about 50 metres apart. We did that for about an hour, then a tree fell right behind us.
“That’s when the SES guy said ‘I’m gonna call it. It’s too dangerous, we’re stopping.’ I said, ‘I’m the director of nursing, I’ve got 35 residents at Trentham that I need to get up to!’ The SES guy said, ‘Well you’re not getting there today.’
“I felt a sense of responsibility to get there. There was another guy helping, with a four-wheel drive and trailer, Patrick. I said to him ‘Do you want to give it a crack at getting through one of the back tracks?’ We tried one or two tracks off the main road, but they were all blocked with fallen trees. He took me to my car and I went home.

“I couldn’t get through by either landline or mobile to work. I felt the gravity of what had happened. I said to my wife ‘I’m gonna try and ride to work’. She wasn’t happy about it. I put the bike in the back of the ute. I could only get just north of Blackwood with the car. The thing that really struck me was the quietness: it was like the end of the world. I got to a house which had smoke coming out of the chimney. I thought it would be quicker if they could throw my bike in the back of their ute.
“The woman who answered said she’d get her husband to help. We got as far as Wheelers Track, before Newbury. There were more massive logs on the road – big manna gums. The road was blocked. I thanked the guy and got out my bike.
“I told the SES guy that was on the road I was going to ride my bike through. He said, ‘Good luck – I wouldn’t recommend it!’ I went under some logs, over, around, holding my bike. You could ride every now and again. I saw Ana and Lance Whitehouse in Newbury. Like everyone else they had no power or phone.
“I was thinking, ‘I can do this, I’m pretty fit!’ What struck me again was the silence – every now and again you’d see people just standing there.
“I think they were all in shock. Every five metres there was another tree to get under or over or another branch to get through. I would look at what was in front of me and think ‘Does this ever end?’
“Occasionally I’d lift my bike to the top of the pile, then scramble under the pile, then from the other side get it from its perch on the top. Each pile of logs had to be assessed on its own merits.
“I got hot. I didn’t have water. I got scratched quite a bit. I got near the tip, saw the next pile and I thought: ‘I can’t get through here, I can’t do this.’ But it was stupid to go back, so I persisted. It was just a mountain of massive logs, almost impenetrable, wet, and slippery. I just did it. Eventually I got past the cemetery and rode through town; people were just standing around on the street. I was relieved and quite happy I’d got through. I’ll never be able to explain how arduous it was.
“I knew the staff at Trentham Aged Care would have things in hand. Local Trentham staff who could get in whether they were on duty or not were at work. The cook couldn’t get in because of the blocked roads. The cook’s assistant and other Trentham nursing staff organised for their daughters to come in and give meals to the residents and help. The power was out, the diesel generator had kicked in automatically, but it ran out of fuel and the maintenance man couldn’t get in from Woodend. Kath, the assistant cook, called her husband Dave who brought in diesel fuel. We’ve now got a bigger tank for the genny. The community spirit was amazing. We had offers of diesel fuel from other community members as well.
“The staff from the evening shift of the night of the storm who couldn’t get home stayed and slept here. We had members of the public who got stuck in town staying here too. When I got here Jacqui Tisdale (nurse unit manager) and Raelene Gardiner (assistant nurse unit manager) had already enacted the emergency management plan – Code Yellow – the staff had it all in hand. I wasn’t surprised. The real heroes here were the staff and the residents. It was Kath and the kids of the staff, and the community. There were so many offers of help.
“The residents are a stoic generation; they took it all in their stride. There was a massive pine tree down outside the living room, they were a bit shocked. Subconsciously, Covid is impacting on everyone’s mental health. I don’t think there is a true awareness of this. I think the storm just compounded what has already been a horrible 12 or 18 months with Covid.
“I believe in climate change, but I don’t think this storm was a result of climate change – I think it was nature at her worst. We can be proud and grateful that we live in such a caring, beautiful, supportive community. We need to take time to reflect on that. Look what’s happening in Afghanistan, it really does make you take stock of how fortunate we are in this community. Even before I started the ride through the fallen logs, I knew my staff and the community would do all they could within their powers to ensure the safety of the residents. The sacrifices people made to ensure the safety of our residents – the nurses in Trentham were impacted by the storm personally – but they put that aside to come to work.”

To read the final eight stories in Sandy’s series, head to www.tlnews.com.au

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