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Evacuation before the ‘apocalyptic’ bushfires of January 2020



Scenes have been described as “apocalyptic” as Australia’s bush fires have intensified, raging across huge tracts of the country and turning daytime skies orange, red and black.
Thousands of residents and tourists have been forced to flee or take shelter as flames ravage towns in the southeastern states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria
…amid shortages of food and fuel, the military has deployed ships and aircraft to bring supplies and evacuate people from fire-devastated coastal towns.

Australia’s Bushfires, World Economic Forum, 8 January 2020

I live in one of those towns.

January, 2020 was truly horrific. Small local towns and houses were destroyed, people killed and untold numbers of animals and birds died, their habitats destroyed for years to come. At times during the month we were without power, potable water and any form of communication. Instead of being busy with tourists, all shops and businesses were closed. It felt like the end of the world.

It was also a month of evacuations as smoke from the bushfires filled the air and burnt leaves covered the lawn. At one stage, as the bushfire was rapidly approaching the town from the west and threatening the hospital, our mobiles received the dreaded ‘seek shelter as the fire arrives’ message every two minutes. Not ‘if the fire arrives’ but ‘as the fire arrives’. Ember attacks, like aerial bombing, were expected.

January was dreadful. i never want to go through another period like it. However, I did learn one thing – what is really important to me. Like most people I have far too many possessions. Quick evac-packing really sorted out just what held meaning and value and those objects that were just possessions.

Surprisingly none of the limited number of objects that I chose for evacuation were valuable in the monetary sense. Paintings stayed on walls, antique furniture was forgotten as was valuable china and silver. Good clothes were forgotten as were ‘electricals’.

Without a second thought I quickly packed three things – a tapestry, a carnival glass bowl and a Wedgewood plate. All are laden with emotion and memories, of good times as well as bad. This makes them priceless..

Mum’s tapestry

My parents on holidays, Burleigh Heads, Queensland

The first thing that I grabbed off the walls was a fairly common tapestry of an Australian homestead. It is far from perfect but those imperfections and the reasons for them ensure that the tapestry will always be treasured by me.
My mother Isobel Dawn EVERINGHAM [1928-1991] started the tapestry during the final stages of her long fight against cancer. Unfortunately my mum wasn’t able to finish it so my father Neville Allen HARRIS [1931-2016], completed it, clumsy fingers and all.
The tapestry is a tangible symbol of my parents’ love, determination, courage, grief and hope.
It holds so many memories for me.

My Nan with one of her grandchildren

Nan’s ‘Lucky’ bowl

The second thing I ‘rescued’ also holds many memories for me – my Nan’s or paternal grandmother’s, Northwood carnival glass ‘Good Luck’ bowl – or the horseshoe bowl as I called it. I wasn’t really fascinated by the colours of the carnival glass. I was totally fixed on what my grandmother [Mary Thelma Harris nee WOOLLEY] used the bowl for.
Nan used to serve an impossible to recreate simple salad in it – tomato, onion, Cornwalls brown vinegar and sugar. The salad was extra special as it was always made from my grandfather’s [William Henry Allan HARRIS] home-grown tomatoes.
That salad was a taste of my childhood summers, bringing back memories of Christmas picnics, as well as being one of the main reasons for my love of vinegar today!
One day we will manage to recreate that salad and serve it in Nan’s bowl.

My mother holding a very young me

1976 Mothers Day plate

I am one of six children. In 1976 we gave our mother, who loved all things Wedgewood, a Pale Blue Jasper Ware ‘Mother’ plate. Mum liked it so much (or said she did) and a tradition started. Six children and six plates.
As the eldest child I inherited the earliest plate – 1976 – while my youngest brother inherited the latest of the plates -1981.
I remember how proudly Mum displayed those plates beside her ‘best’ glassware and china. I proudly display the plate now.


The bushfires that raged throughout January were finally put out in early February – a combination of massive work from firefighters and some heavy rainfall.

The town of Moruya escaped the worst of the fires , with only the outskirts of the town being affected. The surrounding areas were devastated however.

A big lesson for all of us has been to really value and protect those things that are really important to us, particularly as most of them are irreplaceable.

2 thoughts on “Evacuation before the ‘apocalyptic’ bushfires of January 2020 Leave a comment

  1. I am so sorry you experienced this event, how frightening. I find your thoughts very relatable, we have had to evacuate more than once. In our case it’s hurricanes. During the season I keep my most valued family photos and memorabilia in a sealed plastic tub (about 2 cubic feet) that we take with us. Thank you for sharing.


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