SPRING rain has added colour and trees are bursting with new growth to resemble fuzzy green pipe cleaners, but the metaphor most apt for describing the regeneration of Marysville was in the pounding feet of more than 3000 runners and walkers - slow, steady and arduous.
Nine months after Black Saturday, the torched township continues to pull itself up by its boot-straps with yesterday's inaugural Marysville Marathon drawing competitors from near and far, including from Canada, Britain and even Alaska, where a woman who had dreamed of seeing Australia learned of the event on the internet.
The horde traversed hilly and often off-road terrain, passing the charred bush-scape of legendary Steavenson Falls, before congregating finally on the footy oval in Gallipoli Park, where hundreds had hunkered down in horror against the February 7 firestorm.
Yesterday, the mood was commemorative, but also upbeat as all shades of lycra and flesh - from lithe and tanned to portly and pale - negotiated the 42-kilometre marathon and shorter courses in 30-degree heat.
Though disparate in gait and grace, the theme of the moment was unmistakable: one body, one purpose, as espoused in the slogan emblazoned on the T-shirts of volunteers - "Marysville Marathon: united we run".
"The response was far bigger than we could have expected," said a triumphant Cassandra Church, one of the organisers of the race, which raised more than $15,000 for local emergency services. "We had 2000 registrations online, but another 1000 people turned up on the day."
Slowly, the rebuilding of Marysville gathers pace: the master plan for the township, the urban design framework, is close to being ticked off; construction of public housing is under way; and on Thursday the first sod will be turned on the site of the school, kindergarten and community complex.
Thoughout the town a handful of timber frames rise up, Fragas' Cafe Restaurant has reopened, the old lolly shop operates out of a converted shipping container and the former car museum, purchased by the State Government, is scheduled for conversion this month into a mini-mart and shops.
More than 120 people have settled into the temporary village, on the Buxton Road. And although Marysville lost 1300 homes in the fires, 235 building permits have been issued for those people game enough to start over. Another 100 are in the pipeline.
"We certainly know that there are a number of people who have purchased houses elsewhere, and who aren't coming back," conceded Murrindindi Shire Mayor Lyn Gunter. "Only time will make clear just how many return."
Encouraged by progress in the rebuilding after long months of frustration, Councillor Gunter said she was well aware of the painstaking rebuilding of the community's psyche.
"Everyone has their good days and their bad days," she added. "But on the whole the spirits of the community are really good. People are pulling together. They've found amazing courage and strength."
Signs of rejuvenation were evident close by: barbecues sizzled beneath a new shelter, complete with sturdy posts of salvaged mountain ash, made possible by the efforts of service clubs, organisations and the donation of $90,000 of materials. Sparkies from Eildon, builders from Alexandra; all up, 39 companies and individuals got involved.
Local GP Lachlan Fraser, who lost his house and surgery in the fires, had first proposed yesterday's marathon. A keen runner, Dr Fraser lost nearly all his running medals including those that commemorated runs in China and the US, as well as throughout Australia.
Two bells salvaged from the ruins of his home were used to signal the start and finish of yesterday's events (also a minute's silence), with about 100 runners choosing the marathon and a handful the ultra-marathon (45 kilometres).
The most popular were the 10-kilometre and three-kilometre runs and/or walks. Governor David de Kretser, Premier John Brumby and ex-police chief-cum-bushfire reconstruction head Christine Nixon joined in the latter.
Assorted other politicians also took part - including, in the half-marathon, wayward Tourism Minister Tim Holding who was the butt of trackside jokes about whether he would get lost on the course.
"He's never going to live it down, is he?" said a paramedic, on standby for a mishap.
John McKenzie (3 hours, 3 minutes and 17 seconds) and Irene Dunn (3:40.27) were winners of the men's and women's marathons.
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