Hume Anglican Grammar school at Mickleham was undamaged during last week’s extensive fires north of Melbourne but members of its school community had some close calls.

Ms Helen Goudy, a parent of two students at the school, described her family’s narrow escape as the fires bore down on their Chintin property, between Wallan and Romsey, on 9 February. She took three of her young children to a neighbour’s dam as the fire neared.

“The fire took us by surprise, the wind changed and it came raging up the hill next to us, I continued to spray the hose on the roof of the house until the last seconds,” Ms Goudy wrote in an account given wide coverage by the ABC and the Herald Sun.
“The very loud roar of helicopters was above us and as we (peeked) out to look at our house it was fully engulfed in smoke and flames....  We thought the house was gone...

“I tried to be positive and told the kids they were going to grow old and not die when while they were little. We even prayed to our Granny who had died two weeks prior and said they we hoped she was well, asked that she look after us.

“There was a point that I thought this was it and we couldn’t possibility die this way. We just concentrated on trying to breathe. The kids were silent for some time, I kept on saying to Royce ‘Are you OK?’ and a simple little ‘Yes’ would be heard. The baby was shivering and quiet and Toria just kept staring at me, silently. When the reeds directly next to us caught fire the kids did panic and shriek and we tried to shuffle over to the other side of the dam.

“After 1-2 hours, we don’t know how long, the last front passed. I said to the kids, ‘We made it, it’s OK, we survived the bushfire’. I took a photo.

“Then we looked up to the house expecting to see burnt rubble and amazingly it was still there, in one piece.”

The Goudys had another scare the following day, 10 February, when a second round of fires started coming. “They seemed to burn every square inch of what had not been burnt the day prior. We filled up the gutters again, sprayed the house, got the generator running the pump for when the power went out and had the truck and pump ready for action this time.

“As dusk set in we could see fire from every window in the house, the one over at Wallan burnt very high and they seemed to join at the rear of our view and head vigorously into Kilmore.”

Ms Goudy paid tribute to Mr Matt Keeley, a father from Hume Grammar, who with his older son (a Year 12 student there last year) delivered water for free until 4am on 10 February.

“I was amazed at their generous attitude and assistance,” she said.

“I'd also like to emphasise the importance of the helicopters that water-bombed our house and near us in the dam. This, I believe, saved the house and perhaps us.”

Hume Anglican Grammar’s Principal, Mr Bill Sweeney, told Anglican Media Melbourne that the southerly winds blew the fire away from the school but that 20% of students and a couple of staff were absent from school on 10 February because they were in fire-affected areas and could not get to school or even to their own property. The school bus from Kilmore and Wallan had to be suspended as access to those areas was very restricted. On 11 February, smoke started coming across the school and students stayed indoors for the next two days during recess and lunchtime.

Mr Sweeney said a number of staff had evacuated their homes on Sunday night, 9 February, and some did not return to their homes until the following Thursday evening. He said they came to school on each of those days and stayed with friends and colleagues until they could go back home. One staff member brought her children to school while her husband remained on their property to protect it.

“Some of them did not see their homes for some time, they could not get access to them,” he said. “They just had to wait and pray.

“None of our community – parents and students or staff – had significant loss of property,” he added although some lost or had damage to sheds or vehicles.

The fires gave added poignancy to the fifth anniversary of Black Saturday, the fires to the north and east of Melbourne on 7 February 2009 which killed 173 people, destroyed more than 2000 homes and displaced more than 7500 people.

On 16 March, the new St Peter’s Memorial Anglican Church in Kinglake will be dedicated by Archbishop Philip Freier on the site of the historic timber church that was destroyed five years ago.

The Vicar of Whittlesea and Kinglake, the Revd Stephen Holmes, said wood salvaged from the site had been used in creating a new baptismal font and lectern for the new church. But he said the scars were still there for many people.

“I think every anniversary, for some, evokes memories that conjure up dome difficulties and anxiety,” Mr Holmes said.

“We want St Peter’s to be a hub for the community, somewhere where activity takes place. Of course it’s a place of worship but that is our way of sowing the seeds of God’s love in the community...  We want people to know there is a place of God, a place of sanctuary, of lightness, of peace.”

A Kinglake candle, used at a memorial service in Whittlesea two Sundays after Black Saturday, was blessed by the Dean, the Very Revd Andreas Loewe, at St Paul’s Cathedral on 2 February (the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple or Candlemas) and will arrive at Kinglake for the dedication after visiting St Jude’s Carlton, St Matthias’ Mernda (Plentylife), then to Christ Church Whittlesea for the morning service on 16 March before going up to Kinglake for the dedication at 3pm that day.

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