In January 1944 fires swept through South Hamilton causing much destruction to property. It was something that my father spoke about many times over the years. His family lost the house leaving his parents and their eight children homeless.
In 1981, when my grandparents, Nell and Percy Storer were 81 years old, my brother Shane and his (now) wife Mary Lou, my little brother Craig and I sat down with Nan and Pop to talk about their lives. We covered much in the afternoon, and here is a small snippet of the day my Nan watched her house burn to the ground.
I’m not sure it was on Friday January 13th 1944 as Friday was the 14th. I think there is probably confusion with Black Friday fires in Victoria in 1939.
Anyway, have a listen and read along.
Nan: Just reading here where we sold our Portland Road home, it must’ve after the fires certainly, 1960.
Mary Lou: Were you married when you were burnt out?
Nan: Oh yes. Pat and Lo (Lois), Pat was about 7. 1944. Whatever Pat is now, and I remember Lo and Pat said to us, there after Christmas, Santa had been of course, at that age, and Pat had what she used to call a bunny rabbit thing, it was about that high and it was all fluffy, you know.
And that was one of her gifts with her Christmas stocking, and Lo had the doll and that’s the only things that they took with them.
Ray took us, our son Ray, they had the milk round at the time, he and Tom. They kept the cows over in another paddock and they sold them. They had a milk round for the town.
And Ray bundled us all into the float and Dad’s away fighting fires and Ray takes us away from the fires which began in the other direction you see.
It came roaring down the railway line out here at Portland Road and we could see it, we knew it was coming, and Ray got us all bundled into the float and we went down here right down here to the cutting. You know, down here at Digby Road and we stood up on the top there on the high part and we watched the house go and dad had a haystack, for once you had sowed something that was going to be feed for the cows anyway, what was it? wheat? Oats? Oats it would have been in those days, wouldn’t it?
And he had the stack and we saw that stack go up.
And first one we saw was Fyfe’s they, you know old Maurice Fyfe, they lived over near the Abattoirs, over there now, and they had quite a new house and we saw their house had … pine trees all around and the fire started in their cut, their, what do you call it? The spouting and it went all right around the top of the house and I said oh my god, look at Fyfe’s, and there it was, it went right around the top of the house first, we could see it from the cutting, you see. And way went their house and we knew ours wouldn’t be long. You couldn’t do anything you see, because you can’t fight fire.
Shane: And what year was that? That was in the 40’s?
Nan: That was 44.
Nan: 44. We buried dad on the Monday, my dad, O’Connor, and … we were burnt out on the Friday.
Gregory: What month was that Nan?
Nan: That was January
Gregory: January 13?
Gregory: That was a Friday. That was Friday 13th
Nan: Yeah it was the 13th we all said that was unlucky day
Shane: So what did you get left with after the fires?
Nan: We didn’t have anything left but the chimneys and we had an iron kettle at the time and flat irons, you know, way back, and the old flat irons were still there and what was left of the stove wasn’t it. We had a wood stove and we had these flat irons. No electricity out there in the area then, it did come later didn’t it?
Shane: You must’ve been pretty disheartened?
Nan: Oh, so disheartening.
Shane: Did you cry for a week?
Nan: No, no you felt like a lump of lead in there.
Pop: You had to start again.
Nan: You did
Shane: No choice I suppose.
Nan: You knew you had your family there depending on you, you just had to pull yourself together.
Pop: Start from scratch
Craig: Did you rebuild a house or move to another place.
Nan: Tell you what, we moved into a little place and you thought you were going into the army or something. We moved into this tiny place. There were only two places and Glares, Dad’s sister, you see, they were burnt out at the same time opposite us and they got in before us and they got this big place that, they had the coffee shop use to be further down near the railways. They rented that. There were only about 2 places available by the time we got around to it, and we got this little place out near…
Pop: Scoresby St
Nan: Scoresby St, and we got Red Cross came to the aid of us all, everybody, not only us, all of us and and ‘coz you hadn’t anything, nothing, barely anything
Craig: And all the children were still at home where they? The 8 children?
Nan: We had the whole 8 of them, yes, Pat was only 7, and all home. And they brought us these, anything in emergency, you know the old iron beds? You fold the legs back, like that, and type of straw mattress and that and grey blankets. But they were good, they were clean in fact they were new, real new blankets that Red Cross kept for emergencies.
Pop: That was all army stuff
Nan: It’s what you call a real emergency you see, not only us, but we were happen to be bad luck.
Anyway all this army stuff came and we had the beds in this little house, they were lined up like this, the boys, Tom, Ray, Brian, I suppose Leon and Norman. I don’t know where we put them, oh no, our sister Stel took a couple of them and Julie Brebner she took them, John use to be friends with Ray and them you know she took Ray and gave, Tom and gave them a bed. Oh it was well, it was hell let loose, it really was. Because it just swept everything right from beneath your feet.
You can read some press clippings from the papers at the time on the Western District Families blog