Our tight knit community of Margaret River in WA has known more than its fair share of tragedies in the last 25 years.
The death of Cynda and Peter Miles, their daughter Katrina and four grandchildren on Friday has once more brought the community together to try and grasp unfathomable sadness.
There is no sense of comparison here to Port Arthur or mass shootings of that kind; more a parrallel to the scale of loss and community grief experienced in the Gracetown rockfall tragedy of 1996; or the tragic bushfires of 2011.
Community members are trying to grasp how, when times are tough, the perception of seemingly insurmountable difficulties facing a farming family in regional Australia, can lead to this type of calamity.
Overwhelmingly, friends are holding close together, discussing how to set up measures to ensure other families in crisis receive tangible assistance before tragedy occurs; and looking for new ways to help generations of men trained in stoic coping, to express their deepest fears and ask for help.
There is an ever-rising consciousness here of the recurring theme of depression in regional Australia – much has been written about it nationwide – but the deeper it impacts on families and communities, the more government support services receed into office blocks in regional centres hundreds of kilometres away.
It is left to the local Community Centre to pull together post-trauma counselling services while mostly, friends of the family support each other. Margaret River is resoundingly resilient in this arena. And yet inside a family, such palpable pain is private and it is now apparent that no-one was able to reach in to the core to help, before the final straw broke.
Cynda Miles was a much loved community elder, with friends far and wide in the region, whom she supported and nurtured through good and bad times.
Her legacy lives on in a hundred gardens which hold her shared cuttings of flowers and veges and plants; the proactive ‘plastic free’ initiatives from boomerang bags to upcycled coffee cup wash-up stations; the treasured hugs she gave so willingly with her strong, tall, warmth.
Her husband Peter is remembered as a respected farm manager and loving husband, father and grandfather – many memories arising of his good works in the community in the past.
Their daughter Kat, a strong mother and dynamic woman in her own right; her four children much loved.
They faced their difficulties together and their tragedy remains a deeply pivate one.
Many people here in Margaret River are struggling to comprehend the duality of love and loss as the story unfolds, as they search their souls for understanding … how a magnificent ‘grandmother tree’, a most loved community elder, can stand amidst her brood in her abundant garden, seemingly so strong, and yet be lost so suddenly to a despair so deep.
Prayers and community gatherings throughout the days to come will help…but nothing can fix the broken hearts. Rest in peace dear ones.
Written at my kitchen table on returning from a beautiful gathering with dear friends on Sat morning at the Organic Garden; in response to an invitation to write a short piece on how our community is coping, from my old uni journo friend Helen Pitt at the Sydney Morning Herald. Published in shorter form in SMH, Mon May 14.