From my Aunt’s diary

Pam Cameron

I am doing the family's history at present and came across this piece written by my husband's Aunt Iris which may be of interest. It concerns a bushfire at Yanco on the Murrumbidgee River during the 1920's.

The family was living in tents at the time as the father and his brother were working on the railway line. As the work progressed every few weeks, so the tents were moved.

I'll let Iris tell her story:

"On completion of this work my father took a job as a boundary rider and our tents were moved to a spot opposite where we would eventually live. It was here that my mother had one of the most dramatic experiences of her life. It was a hot Monday morning and why do I know it was Monday? Because it was washing day and no self respecting housewife, whether she lived in a tent or a mansion ever did her washing on any day except Monday. Just let us thank God it was Monday as it was this fact that saved our lives.

There had been luxuriant growth that year and the grass was very high and dry. In all, I think we had three tents, two for bedrooms and the other for a kitchen-living room; all had board floors and were considered quite comfortable. On this mornin, bush fires could be seen across the Murrumbidgee River but Dad had assured us they couldn't jump the water. He saddled up his stallion 'Mick' and went off to check just where the fires were and what assistance was needed in fighting them. There were a couple of furphys (water tanks on wheels for the uninitiated) full of water ready for the wash which Mum proceeded to do. The washing was hung on lines close to the tents and Mum kept an ever-watchful eye on the fire.

Soon it was apparent that not only could the fire jump the river, it had already done so. We were only about three miles from the river and there were absolutely no breaks in its path. Flight was out of the question as the fire would catch us long before we could reach any sanctuary. Quickly the clothes were brought off the line, leaving the pegs where they fell. All the water in the tubs was thrown over the tents and every other available drop put into buckets, dishes and anything that would hold it, so it could be used to douse sparks as they fell on the tents. Fortunately there was a reasonable break around our home – my father was pretty meticulous about these kinds of things.

It didn't take long for the flames to sweep up to us. We children were thrust under the round washing tubs and my mother somehow defied that fire to burn the tents and her children. We were engulfed in smoke but nothing was burned except the pegs under the clothes line. There was no water left when the fire passed beyond us, so it seems that while we were under the tubs my mother must have worked in a frenzy to save us and her home. The next thing I remember was my father galloping in through the smoke and embers and crying out and thanking God when he saw us. He had been cut off by the fire and could only get home in the wake of the flames.

In the cool of the evening my father took us all to stay with friends in Yanco as my mother was too shocked to stay in the tents that night. I will never forget that night walk. All the fence posts were glowing like torches arranged in file along the side of the road, the trees were still burning far up in the sky. Every drop of water seemed to be reflecting the crimson sky."