On Thursday night a little over a week ago, Henstridge was among the locals who gathered at the ground to watch footballers and netballers train and then, as footy club president Matt Whelan said, “have a feed and a bit of a mingle and a debrief and a beer and, believe it or not, we’ll probably light the firepit tonight”.
Such black humour drops by occasionally in Buchan as they wryly note the ground has never looked better due to the watering it received during the fires.
But more evident was the deep and genuine concern about the community’s predicament. They understand the challenges ahead are very real, with most fencing damaged, livestock wandering and feed hard to access.
That’s why donning the whites on Saturday so Buchan can continue fighting for the C-grade premiership against teams from towns similarly affected is seen as significant, as is getting the children out having a kick of the footy at training.
“There is a lot of concern around because there are a lot of people still stressed with what has been going on,” Henstridge said.
“There are guys fighting fires and people who have lost property and homes, so it is all impacting, but hopefully if we can get the club running, we will start to get back to some normal life and maybe we will alleviate some of that concern.
“They will be able to read the scores in the paper and talk to some of the senior players and the kids that play, so I think it is vital.”
It’s another boost, in addition to news during the week that the famous Buchan races were certain to run on Saturday, February 15, after fire roared around the track on New Year’s Eve, wiping out the rails, the winning post and, more positively from the racecaller’s perspective, a couple of trees that had hindered the view of the back of the course.
Buchan and Gelantipy Race Club president Peter Sandy was at the football club on Thursday night, pleased his horse, the ironically named Firefree, was safe and sound after taking refuge at the footy oval during the fires; Sandy told his wife they better save the gelding because he might be their main income for a while.
Both events are steps forward on what many in the town know will be a long road, with saving property, livestock and infrastructure more important than saving runs this summer.
Yet sport gives people downtime. Whelan is conscious of the need for hard work and support will only grow as winter sets in and connection becomes both harder and more important.
Hawthorn Football Club’s list has been around, too, led by their coach Alastair Clarkson, pitching in unobtrusively, eschewing publicity so real work is done while they are there, mending spirits and fences in both Buchan and Corryong, also hit by fires.
“It’s not just now or for the next month,” Whelan said.
Local Scott Cummings didn’t sleep for days as the fires went through town and he became a central point for communications. He has hardly stopped working since; 200 hectares on his property burnt, as well as tractors, hay sheds and feed for his livestock.
He admits to being emotional at times about what has happened to the town, but the thought of watching Buchan play cricket is a good one.
“I love coming down to the cricket at 5pm on a Saturday afternoon. I used to play cricket here but I don’t any more because of other commitments, but our cricket club is a brilliant, social, low-key place,” Cummings said.
He is no stranger to being on the front line of fires, but seeing his own town hit was hard.
He apologises for his raspy voice, but his message is clear.
“The community spirit has been good … it’s about keeping strong as a community,” Cummings said.
Buchan is resilient – as Whelan says of the footballers in the region, “they breed them tough here” – but it will need to stick together if it is to bounce back bigger and better, as Cummings thinks it can.
And cricket, the races, the footy and the netball will all play their part for the same reason Henstridge is looking forward to holding a bat again.
“Put it this way, it is good fun,” he said.
For Victorians caught up in fires this summer – and for those worried about what lies ahead in coming months – fun is something that has been in short supply.
Buchan is determined to bring it back to the town bit by bit, when and where it can.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.