Better the rattle of rifles near, or the thunder on deck at sea,” Henry Lawson wrote, “than the sound – most hellish of all to hear – of a fire where it should not be.”
Those who experienced South Australia’s Black Tuesday fire 10 years ago today understand better than most the meaning of the bush poet’s words.
On January 11, 2005, the lower Eyre Peninsula – pristine and to some a paradise – was suddenly hell on earth as a bushfire ripped from the west coast to the east.
The fire, which started at Wangary, killed nine people, destroyed 93 homes and blackened 80,000 hectares. It also prompted one of the longest-running coronial inquiries and changed the way South Australia responds to bushfire crises.
Since then, the day has been dubbed Black Tuesday.
We had the sea to go into, survivor recalls
Among those who lost their homes was Lorna Harding, now 91, from North Shields, a small coastal settlement north of Port Lincoln.
She watched as the house she was born in and had lived in all her life was destroyed, and said it was “one of those days that went in a blur”.
“It was a really hot day. First thing in the morning you could feel the heat coming off the ground,” she said.
“By lunchtime, it was just a red glow and by half past two my house was burnt.
“It just came so fast. Before we knew where we were, we were covered in smoke. But we had the sea to go into so we were right.”
Lorna Harding was among those who took refuge in the water in what would become one of the enduring images of the inferno.
Her father had worked on the building of the jetty under which she sheltered.
“It’s just instinct that you go to the water,” she said.
“Afterwards you remember bits and pieces. It didn’t matter how many trucks they had. Nothing was going to stop it that day.
“We were lucky we didn’t lose any of our family.”
Memorial service held to mark 10th anniversary
A memorial service is being held to commemorate 10 years since the Black Tuesday fire at Wangary today.
Representatives from the state’s emergency services will be among those to take part in the memorial service, which will take place near where the fires broke out.
State MP for the region, Peter Treloar, was a farmer at the time and said “many people’s lives changed for ever that day”.
But he said he understood that not all wanted to be involved in Sunday’s commemoration.
“It’s not going to be a day for everyone. I’ve spoken to some people who won’t be attending,” he said.
“It will certainly bring it back to the fore.
“Hopefully it’s a time for reflection and a time for moving on.”