Journalist EMMA D'AGOSTINO shares Garry and Julie Newman's story of fire and embracing new beginnings...
THERE'S no sugar coating it: Garry and Julie Newman's home of more than a decade is a wreck.
Last week Mrs Newman wrote to the Mail-Times to thank the many people who had helped - and are continuing to help - her family recover from the Grampians bushfire.
Their house in Wartook Valley was one of more than 30 razed by the January blaze.
Mail-Times photographer Paul Carracher and I knew this as we drove through the valley to meet Mr and Mrs Newman at their property.
But I was still unprepared for what we were about to see.
As we passed thousands of black spindles sticking out of the scarred earth like hairs standing on end, lining the roads leading to the Newmans' property, I realised there would have been no way a fire truck could have driven up their driveway.
Thankfully, the family decided early on they were in no situation to defend their property and left.
"We want people to learn from our experiences," Mr Newman said.
"Think of your personal safety and how you can manage it, and if you get caught and can't get out, what you're going to do."
Next came the shock of the remnants of the house.
Even from a distance, the dramatic slope of the melted metal roof that has caved into the centre of the wreckage betrayed the former dwelling's size.
It might look like it was a single-storey house, but it was a double.
"I had a really big craft room upstairs. My friends called it 'Wartook Spotlight'," Mrs Newman said.
"Every time we come out, the house is collapsing in more and more."
Think of your personal safety and how you can manage it, and if you get caught and can't get out, what you're going to do.
A disaster was what I saw when I first approached the property.
But after five months, Mr and Mrs Newman's focus has changed.
They led us to a small green sprout about a metre from their house.
"Every year since we've been here I've tried growing sweet peas, because they're my favourite flower," Mrs Newman said.
Until now, her attempts had been unsuccessful.
It took a fire to bring the seeds to life.
"The day of the fire, I didn't make my bed. I didn't wash my dishes," Mrs Newman said.
She had been meaning to do a stack of mending and clear out a lot of old junk.
Now, she joked, she did not have to worry about any of it.
"You've got to have a good attitude," she said.
"It's only stuff."
Mr Newman urged people to make sure they were adequately insured so they could replace their possessions.
"We were grossly under-insured," he said.
But he said his family had been lucky.
You've got to have a good attitude. It's only stuff.
A new home to the rear of their property, which has been in the works for many years, came under ember attack but was undamaged.
The family has thrown its energy into finishing the project, hopefully in time for Mrs Newman's birthday in September.
Being away from their friends in Wartook Valley has been one of the most challenging aspects of their recovery.
Mr and Mrs Newman are living in emergency housing in Horsham.
Their two adult sons, who have drug and mental health issues, are also in the process of rebuilding their lives.
"We'll be like newlyweds," Mr Newman said.
"We'll have a new life, a new house and new stuff, which is something to look forward to."
He credited much of their progress to their faith, family and friends.
"This is a great place to live," Mr Newman said.
"Everyone has a good heart.
"People do still care about each other."
He has a new batch of donated Collingwood memorabilia - perhaps some of the few things Mrs Newman was pleased to see incinerated - to prove it.