Fiery Time

It was January 8th, 1969 and I was returning home from a holiday in the west coast town of Warrnambool, in a car driven by my mother and with my three youngest siblings.

Mum decided to take a deviation southward to visit some friends in a newly-opened dairy farming area approx. 1.5 hours from our starting point. This added more time to the expected 6 hour trip, we originally had 400 km to travel to home.

We did not know what was happening in the outside world, the Heytsebury farming settlement had only recently been opened up, it was recently cleared forest and rather isolated.

My father meanwhile, was unaware of our deviation and was getting worried when we did not arrive home when expected. He knew (which we didn't) that devastating grassfires had cause the death of 17 people who had abandoned their cars at a place on the Princes Highway called Lara, approximately 2 hours from home.

He had heard on the radio that day of a mother and four children who had died in those fires when they tried to escape on foot. Can you imagine his terror and horror at hearing this news?

We knew nothing of this, except that it was a hot windy day, scorching temperatures with a hot northerly wind to make things worse. When we drove through the Lara area we were diverted from the highway onto some back roads because of the devastation and damage.

We could see that there had been grassfires all around but knew nothing of the horrific toll. Mum made the observation that we might have been caught up in it all if we had not taken the southern diversion and added two hours to our ETA.

At the time we couldn't understand why Dad was crying but joyous when we had returned unharmed, if somewhat tired from the trip.

The five kids were sent off to bed and our parents told us of the terrible news about the Lara fires and how lucky we all were that we had avoided it all.