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Sydney Fires: One victim's story

Posted on: January 7, 2002 10:37 AM
Related Categories: Australia

Olive Lloyd, wife of the rector of Mulgoa, talks to Margaret Rodgers:

"The four walls of our house are still standing, but it is like a waste land," Olive Lloyd said. "From a distance it looks fine, but one end of the roof exploded and everything was lost. Yet we walked in to see how it looked the day after Boxing Day (27th December). As we opened the door, the grandfather clock clicked and then chimed the hour. It is an 18th century heirloom from David's family in Ireland and it had survived the explosion. Though singed, it is still working and can be repaired."

Though she admits to being "absolutely shattered", Olive Lloyd calmly recounted the story of her life over the days since 26th December, when she and her husband David lost their possessions and their home, the rectory of Mulgoa parish.

David and Olive came to the parish from the rural Diocese of Armidale, in northern New South Wales. They had ministered there in the towns of Tenterfield, West Tamworth and Warialda before coming to Sydney to the multi-centred parish of Mulgoa. David Lloyd has the pastoral responsibility for Mulgoa, Silverdale, Warragamba and Luddenham, and over Boxing Day, 26th December, the fires had raged over the whole area. The winds whipped up the flames and the fires spread quickly, razing all before them and amazing the experienced fire fighters by the rapidity of their movements. At one point fire jumped across the breadth of the Warragamba Dam, the main water catchment area for suburban Sydney. The distance it jumped is said to be the equivalent of the area covered by six freeways placed side by side.

David and Olive had travelled to Wahroonga on Sydney's north shore after services on Christmas Day, to have Christmas lunch with their daughter and family.

"We tried to return on Christmas night," Olive said, "but the roads were all closed. We returned to Mulgoa next morning early. The fires were then on a property behind the rectory." The parish rectory sits with the heritage-listed St Thomas' Church on 34 acres of land.

"Helicopters were flying in water-bombing the area. When you read of it you wonder if such a measure can be effective," Olive Lloyd said, "but when you are in the situation it is very reassuring and extremely effective. They drop massive amounts of water with pin-point accuracy onto the fire." The Lloyds watched carefully through the day as the fire men continually arrived to inspect the church and the graveyard, also heritage-listed. David Lloyd had been a bush fire chaplain while he was Vicar of Warialda and knew what precautions they should take in case of any emergency.

"There is a great skill to it. We did all we could, we cleared the gutters on the roof and tried to fill them with water, but all the water pressure had gone," Olive said. "I packed up our family photos and videos of family gatherings and put them into the car. At 12.30pm within one minute the whole of the paddock behind the rectory was alight, and the flames were about six feet high. We had parked the cars facing the road, and we flew down the road. At the end of the driveway David turned and went back. He wanted to hose the house down, but he couldn't, the hoses were already beginning to melt," Olive said.

"So we drove down the road, but David went back again. He wanted to help the people. As he wanted I drove away," Olive said, "but I quickly drove onto the hard edge of the freeway, and I stopped to pray for David and the fire fighters. But David couldn't get back to Mulgoa, by then all the roads were closed. We drove to our daughter's home at Dee Why. By 5 o'clock that night we learned that the house was gone."

Though the rectory is destroyed, St Thomas' church and the graveyard are absolutely safe. Olive Lloyd said that the Mulgoa Bush Fire Brigade captain is a member of the Mulgoa parish, and she learned that he and his wife were both fighting to save the rectory. The people were hosing both sides of the house when it exploded in flames.

One sad loss in the fire is the toys the Lloyds kept in one bedroom for their grandchildren to play with when they come to stay, they are all gone. "Everything is gone except what we could put in the car," Olive said. "Even when you pack the car, you don't believe it is going to happen."

Olive talked with gratitude, and even wonder, of the assistance they have received since the awful days over Christmas. She fondly tells of the assistance of her daughters who went out unasked, and bought entire sets of clothing for their parents, so they would have something to wear. "And everything fitted," Olive exclaimed. Archbishop Peter Jensen and Bishop Brian King, the regional bishop of Western Sydney which includes Mulgoa have kept in close touch. Indeed Bishop went to the parishes and attended services on Sunday 30th December to let the parish know he stood with them.

Interestingly, Olive said that the services held in Mulgoa and Warragamba on that Sunday had very large congregations. She felt that people came to show they cared, and that they were also turning to the ministry of the gospel in the time of crisis.

"People just want to come to say 'I'm here'", Olive said. They have returned to Mulgoa and are overwhelmed by the many "simple random acts of kindness they have experienced since their return."

Phone calls have come from everywhere, and the parish members held a Saturday "working bee" where they washed and packed up all the Lloyd's china that had survived the fire. Another working day is planned to sift through the church records that have all survived since they were kept in steel built filing cabinets. The Lloyd's are thankful that their own personal papers that were similarly kept are also safe.

"On our front doorstep was a large bowl of purple petunias," Olive said. "It was not burnt and they continue to bloom. I see that as an analogy for life," she said. "We are bruised but we will not be defeated, we will start again."

They are also aware of others in the district who have lost homes and possessions. One of the churchwardens has lost his house and his business, an orchard.

Many people in New South Wales are aghast at the news that many of these fires have not happened through natural causes but have been lit by arsonists. Olive has mixed feelings about these individuals, many of them teenagers. "I do feel very angry, they must be made to face up to what they have done and understand what they are responsible for." she said. "But I believe that the community must learn how to look after its outcasts in a better way. What have we done to them?"

One of the hottest topics on talk-back radio prior to New Year's Eve was the question of Sydney's fireworks centred celebrations on Sydney Harbour. Should they be allowed to continue with the devastating fires still threatening large parts of Sydney and environs and the rest of the State? After discussions with Phil Koperburg, head of the NSW Bush Fire Service, the NSW Premier and the Lord Mayor of Sydney decided they should still go ahead. And so they did, though with greatly reduced numbers present around the Harbour to watch.

"It was totally insensitive," Olive said, commenting on the printed pictures of the Lord Mayor and his celebrity guests in dinner suits and elegant gowns sipping champagne and watching the spectacular fireworks. "Many people who lost their homes only had borrowed clothes to wear. You can't forget what happened. Every time I close my eyes I see fire. It was an economic decision, pragmatism at its best, and it was very insensitive. They were in their dinner suits when many of the rest of us had no clothes of our own to wear," she said.

Article from: Anglican Media Sydney