RESILIENCE, humour, and a warm welcome.
This is what Ararat Red Cross volunteers Tonie Duffin and Helen Smart and Ken Geiberras found when the journeyed to Mallacoota in early February.
The volunteers were there for a total of four days, and arrived on the first day roads to the town were re-opened.
The three were part of a contingent of volunteers from western Victoria sent to help get people on the Red Cross register.
The register helps families separated by disaster find each other.
The other role they played was delivering psychological first aid, which primarily meant lending an ear and making soothing cups of tea for people still experiencing trauma and loss.
"It's letting people sit down and talk and tell us their story," Ms Duffin said. "Some of the stories were amazing and some were pretty traumatic.
"The townspeople were all so positive. They tried to keep a sense of normality. The local ladies' sewing group that meets every Thursday was still going."
But things weren't normal and the breadth of what people in Mallacoota were facing was quickly impressed upon the volunteers.
"We met some really amazing people who had lost their houses and everything but were still out there helping everybody else," Ms Duffin said.
"One lovely lady drove us around and showed us where her house used to be.
"We had a couple of people show us where they hid down at the wharf.
"Until someone actually shows you that, you can't imagine it. This man and his wife and kids were huddled under the pier for three hours or more because the fire came."
Ms Smart said the drive from the airport to the town was equally shocking.
The volunteers were confronted with miles of burnt land.
"The breadth of it was what surprised me," she said.
"When we drove from the airport to Mallacoota, no one spoke in the car. It was just stunned silence. I don't think I'd seen something on that scale before.
"People defended that town with their lives. A lot of houses were gone but the infrastructure of the town was still there."
Linda Heard is another Ararat Red Cross volunteer, but she went to Melbourne during the bushfire crisis to help submit registrations.
"Even though I wasn't there, we were still dealing directly with people because they were ringing up to look for other people," she said.
"There was quite a big team at the head office manning the phones and keying in the forms. I didn't realise how big it all was until I started seeing all these towns on the forms. You'd think 'oh my god, I didn't realise the fire was there'."
Ms Duffin said the group will return to the town for the next stage, which involves going door to door and checking on people's welfare.
"Not everyone wants to go into a relief centre because they may not feel comfortable," Ms Duffin said.
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