Photo: Bushfires in Dunalley, taken by Gravelly Beach firefighter Warwick Schultz.

Photo: Bushfires in Dunalley, taken by Gravelly Beach firefighter Warwick Schultz.

A Land of Drought and Fire....

January 4 2013:  A hot day with a strong dry north wind.   There was no stopping the fires that engulfed the town on Dunalley, Tasmania.   As images of the consequent devastation flashed across the media, the hearts of many mss turned to that community.  

For many years our sisters worked regularly  visited the area.   We knew the people, watched their children grow up.    As we heard the news, their names and faces came to mind.  Our hearts went out to them, and to the many others we do not know.

Frances McShane mss

Frances McShane mss

Sunday 20th January, Frances McShane mss joined the devastated Catholic Community of Dunalley as they gathered in the Anglican Church of St Martin’s,  one of the few buildings left intact when the fires tore through their town.  She share some impressions of what she experienced:

It was an inspiration to experience the faith-filled folk in that packed little church at that Mass.  One couple who had lost everything expressed relief that it was their home that had gone and not those of their family.

Another man spoke of riding a bike, swimming the Clifton River and then walking to get back to his home through the night.  He said it took ten hours to get there but he wasn’t going all the time as he stopped for three hours to help a neighbour with the fire at his place..

He spoke of his eight year old when told to get what he wanted because they had to leave – collecting his recently received Confirmation Medal and a Christmas Pudding.  The mother and boys set off in the car which they had to leave when they arrived at the water’s edge. The house was saved, but the car was burnt along with the medal and the pudding. 

One lady spoke of her sadness at losing her engagement and wedding rings in the fire – but the family were going back after Mass to fossick in the ashes to see if they could find them.

 Photo: Chris Kidd/The Mercury    Source:  The Mercury

 Photo: Chris Kidd/The Mercury Source: The Mercury

Already the school grounds had been cleared of debris and 3 pre-fabricated Classrooms had been trucked in.   A big band of men were there preparing to set them up – hoping to have them ready for when School was due back this week – the children would need that routine to help them regain some normalcy in their lives 

I felt privileged as I listened to their stories!   Now, as I write of this experience, what is impressed upon my memory is that courageous, faith-filled community, determined to supporting each other as they rebuild their shattered lives.  They even offered me a cuppa! 

The Missionary Sisters of Service and the Tasmanian Regional Group of the John Wallis Foundation are keeping in touch with people in Dunalley with a view to playing some small role in the recovery process.