Saturday, August 6, 2011

Forever Mum

On Ash Wednesday, February 16, 1983, fanned by hot winds of up to nearly 70 miles per hour, about 180 wildfires burned over more than a million acres of land stretching right across Victoria and South Australia, many of them merging to produce conditions of frightening savagery. Seventy-five people were killed, seventeen of them volunteer firefighters, and over 340,000 sheep, 18,000 cattle, and innumerable native birds and animals. 3,700 buildings were destroyed in the firestorm, including Mum and Dad’s weekend place at Upper Beaconsfield. The process of cleaning up and rebuilding took years, but by the time Dad took this photograph in November 1985, a few months shy of Mum’s sixtieth birthday, they had managed to deal with the worst of it. Local contractors felled this enormous gum tree; I presume it was beyond salvation because she loved her trees, but Mum took over from there. Methodically, patiently, indomitably she built a succession of carefully controlled bonfires that eventually consumed the whole damned thing, just as Aunt Anne did some years earlier (come to think of it) at their pretty place on the right bank of the Tambo, upstream from Swan Reach. In each case those tough sisters were as proud as punch, as well they might be, but Mum’s Farmer-Giles pose is characteristically good-humored, even self-deprecating, but quite obviously real also. She was simply amazing.

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