In the middle of the the lawn was a garden table and around the table were William and Thomas and their much older sister and their sister's friend and Tracy. On the table was a setting for dinner, several glasses of wine, a large salad bowl, an assortment of childrens' books and two plastic wind-up steam engines called Percy and Gordon.
I had an old Essteele pan on the left front burner of the stove. I always used to buy Essteele until the lid handle surrounds started cracking and falling off after they moved production off-shore and the company's new advertising line became Proudly designed in Italy. But made somewhere else.
In the pan was olive oil, six or seven very finely chopped garlic cloves and a couple of dozen roughly pounded black peppercorns. I tipped chardonnay from a Dan Murphy cleanskin - about a third of the bottle - and it hissed and bubbled and settled down to boil. When it did, I threw in forty banana prawns - raw, peeled, tails on - and watched them as they went from bluish opaque to white. As they cooked, I tossed in half a jar of cream and shook the pan to blend cream with fluid.
On the back burner, the rice (Thai basmati, the kind with extra large, fragrant grains) had just got to the point at which, when you lift the lid of the pot, evenly-spaced depressions gently puffing steam appear in its surface. Perfectly cooked.
The prawns took no more than a couple of minutes and I quickly lifted them out of the pan, turned up the heat, reduced the cream and white wine, threw in some chopped parsley and spring onions and poured the garlicky reduction over the prawns, divided on four hills of rice in wide serving bowls.
Is this my favourite summer dish? It must be close.
The salad: one can each chick peas and lentils. One jar, drained, artichokes. Half cup of peas. One jar marinated small onions. Grilled red capsicum strips. Grilled eggplant strips. Combine all ingredients. Top with quarters of boiled egg.
We sat under the spreading grapefruit tree and ate garlic prawns and the much older sister's friend spoke in a way that was unusual in the sense that when you lose two houses in one family, you adopt a kind of distracted tone typical of someone who has lost everything. But instead, I noticed something that might have been a sense of disbelief mixed with some subconscious recognition of a force that is not supernatural but which nevertheless doles out fortune randomly. Two houses gone and no-one hurt.
She talked about not wanting to open a newspaper for a week because familiar faces jumped out. One would prefer to have news of loss from family and friends. One day, perhaps in the depths of winter when national days of mourning are long past, some of these people will crash headlong into a final, grim comprehension that their lives have changed forever; for some, their past all but erased. Meanwhile, many cannot even touch the remains of their houses to look for, I don't know, trinkets that escaped the flames?
... Mr Walshe again took the opportunity to remind the community that the Coroner last Friday restricted access to six fire affected areas, under Section 40 of the Coroners Act. ... areas covered under Section 40 include Callignee, Churchill and Hazelwood, Murrindindi Mill, Marysville, Narbethong, Mudgegonga, Redesdale, Maiden Gully, Bendigo and Wandong, Kilmore, Humevale, Kinglake and Taggerty. The notices give police the power to restrict access to these areas so they can conduct further searches and locate any human remains.
The notices do not prevent residents from returning to their local area but they do prevent owners from starting any clean up and removing any rubble or items from their destroyed homes until such time that police and the Coroner are satisfied that the area has been thoroughly searched and all human remains have been located.
Deputy Commissioner Walshe said that whilst police understood that many in the community were keen to begin rebuilding their lives, this process was vital to ensure closure for as many families as possible.