The next morning at breakfast I watched with interest as Fiona cooked a pot of rice, then added salt, pepper, chicken and lettuce. I looked at my own cereal before asking her what she was making. Excitedly, she told me it was a traditional Chinese breakfast called, Zhou. I thought it seemed strange but I agreed to give a try when she finished. I'm glad I kept my mind open because Zhou turned out to be a phenomenal breakfast and very hearty too.
Life with Fiona was like that. When the boys were out playing rough and tough, her and I had plenty of moments to get to know one another better. Really, the only other Asian I had met was Danny, from Kangaroo Island, but Danny and I hadn't really connected much. Fiona spoke a good ammount of English and that opened lots of doors. I learned that she was an only child because the Chinese laws wouldn't allow her parents to have more than one child. When applying this to a personal perspective it made me sad. My brother and I had such a great relationship, and here this girl would never even get a chance at that because the government wouldn't allow her to. She explained that if people do break the law and have more children than allowed, those children are not recognized as people by the Chinese government and they aren't allowed to obtain identification cards.
As we worked and talked I learned a lot about Fiona and the Chinese people. Unfortunately, we were interrupted when David announced there was a bushfire just a few kilometers from the property. He and Matthew were going to check it out and Fiona and I should wait at the house. Ewan was down in Katherine mustering cattle and couldn't really be bothered. He had explained the huge process of mustering cattle via helicopter, horse and quad bike, and it wasn't cheap nor easy, so that left David in charge of the property.
After an hour had passed, Matthew returned to the house to retrieve a few supplies. He told Fiona and I that the fire was moving this way but it was slow, and we ought not to worry. Still, what could we do but wait and watch and wonder.
After a bit longer a man showed up on the veranda. He was talking on his phone about the fire. When he finished he asked me where Ewan was and when I explained he asked for David and Matthew's phone numbers. Eventually, I learned the man's name was Miguel and he was some sort of neighbor who was also worried about the fire. He instructed Fiona and I to turn on all the sprinklers around the house so as to keep the grass cool and wet. He also said it wouldn't be a bad idea to pack up a small bag in case of emergency. He was calm and cool as he said all this, but my instincts told me things could go south in a hurry.
When Miguel left, Fiona and I played prairie wives. It was near noon and we assumed the boys would come back hungry at some point. While we were trying to decide what to make and how to keep it warm, the boys showed up on the quad bikes, red faced and hurridely grabbing things like water and tools. I could tell they were in a rush so Fiona and I heated up some leftovers and sent it in a Tupperware box with them. We also loaded the truck with a bag of apples, some chips and extra water. At this point we could tell things were getting sticky and we wanted to make sure everyone was in good supply.
Then, as suddenly as they had came in, they left and Fiona and I were back alone with nothing to do but wait and watch. Around two o'clock, Fiona suggested we make lamingtons, an Australian desert, so we googled the recipe and made it happen!
While we waited for the cake to cool, Miguel showed up again. He was talking more rapidly this time and so I asked him what the update was. He said the fire was at Ewan's property line.
All day Fiona and I watched and waited. As the fire slowly crept along, so did the day. By 6 o'clock we were trying to decide how to arrange supper when the men came back in again. Matthew, Miguel and David. We fed them sweets and filled their water bottles.
Matthew showed us pictures and told us he thought it was pretty much fizzling out. No sooner had he said this did we all look up and see big billowing clouds of dark black smoke. It was huge and moving fast. Fiona loaded the guys up with a sack of apples and off they went.
Meanwhile Fiona and I stared in amazed horror. We watched from the deck before climbing the hill once more for a better view. The smoke clouds were huge, maybe two miles high, and even from the hill we could hear the fire crackling. All day we had been in an uncomfortable state of not quite relaxed but not quite panicked. We worried about the men and kept our eyes open for opportunities around the house to help out. It seemed as though cooking and cleaning were our only options as we sat and waited.
Eventually, the boys came back and announced the fire was finally under control. We started in on cooking y-bone steaks, butternut squash from the garden and potatoes and onions. After dinner we all went riding around checking out the remains. Not one of us realized how absolutely massive the fire was. It burnt well over 12ks of land and much more than we could see from night time. The remaining flames looked like an entire city. A city of embers, twinkling in the night sky.