Part 2: Ash Wednesday
The 16th of February 1983 started off like any other day (like most February’s I can remember, it was a very hot dry day [over 40C) with very low humidity. It was a school day and I was pretty excited as I was about to go on a school camp. I kissed my parents goodbye and off I went to camp. The morning at our campsite was full of fun and excitement, but this changed by lunchtime when it became very smoky – bushfire smoke and it was decided that we should evacuate to the local town about 20kms away ( 50 girls, 5 teachers and 6 cars – we broke all the road rules getting out – we thought this was a bit exciting). Once in town we watch the TV new reports – 180 fires burning out of control in 2 states (South Australia and Victoria) – lose of life and housing. At no stage did I ever think my parents were in danger.
So what happened to our farm. My mum went off to school as normal, but finished early when they heard the reports of fires in surrounding districts. My dad, knowing that something bad was about to happen, moved the cattle to a safe protected place in the gully and they waited. What happened next must have been one of complete horror – the entire valley exploded in flames and the pine forest when up in minutes . I can only image what the noise must have been like. My parents were trapped and they had no chance of getting out. The devastation of the fire only became apparent once the fire storm had past. So much was completely destroyed – the house almost went up in flames but my dad’s fast thinking saved it. Some hours later they managed to get a message out (via CD radio) to my Uncle who arrived at midnight to help. It is amazing he even made it from the city to the farm as most of where he drove had been burnt.
As far as the eye could see was blackened by fire and the smell was horrible (even to this day I don’t like the smell of bush fires). I came home on the 17 th of February and I can remember that moment as clearly as it happened today. The 180 fires became known as the Ash Wednesday fires as they occurred on the same day at the religious day of Ash Wednesday.
The reason for telling this (brief) version of events came about when I was asked to scan in all the fire photos and turn them into a photo book. The anniversary comes and goes each year, often without any thought – but this year I have spent a number of hours researching this event and I thought after 26 years some of these sad memories should be shared with others.
Fires are horrible disasters, sadly they keep happening with so much destruction. To make matters far worse – the Ash Wednesday fire that destroyed my parents farm shouldn’t never have happened – it was caused by an arsonist (who was caught and sent to jail).
Below are some photos taken the day after the bushfire.
This became one of Australia's costliest natural disasters. Over 3,700 buildings were destroyed or damaged, 2,545 individuals lost their homes, 340,000 sheep, 18,000 cattle and numerous native animals died or were later destroyed. And as for human life, 75 people died.
This is what the front entrance to the farm house now looks like, 26 years later.