in January 2013, devastating wildfires hit the Australian island of Tasmania. Amongst the devastation of land and property, the papers seemed to focus on one man’s heroic rescue of his family.
Having recently been reading about Welshman Tim Holmes, a resident of Dunnalley in Tasmania who saved his wife and his 5 grandchildren during hours of thick smoke and ferocious flames, the tragic wildfire involving the Holmes family from Dunnalley in Tasmania which occurred in January of this year inspired me to write the following short story. The wildfires affected hundreds of properties across Tasmania. Whilst reading through the many articles explaining the chaotic scenes, I couldn’t help but speculate about what memories this would hold to a child many years later.
Matilda, aged 11 at the time, remembers jumping into the water, it was anything but refreshing. As it gently touched my bare arms, I felt calm and I felt like I could pretend that my siblings and I had not just experienced the most terrifying affair of our lives but there was no disguising the fact that we just had. I will never forget the terror in my grandmother’s eyes as I looked over once we were all in the water. I remember how fast my heart was beating and how the sweat dripped from my forehead into my eyes, blinding me, but being the eldest child, it was my duty, I had to protect them. I held my youngest sister so tightly as the water began to heat up. We saw tornado’s of fire coming towards us at rapid speeds and there was only about 200 to 300 millimetres of air above the water. The atmosphere was indescribably toxic. I can’t emphasise enough how petrified I was, the memories were so intense that I still feel them burning at the back of my mind yet I knew I had to remain calm to prevent the rest of my family from panicking.
I recall my grandfather calling us over as the heat was almost unbearable.
“Over here” he yelled. As he led us towards a small dinghy, we climbed in and it took my family and I further offshore. Sheltering under a jetty was the wisest idea at the time despite the fact the water was up to our chins and we were all struggling to breathe in the sweltering heat and lack of air. I glanced to my left and my grandfather held a camera up, I was confused but smiling was the first thing that I thought of when I saw a camera so I tried my very best to smile for a photo, attempting to forget the current situation we were in. It was so difficult. Looking at that photo brings back so many emotions making me feel tearful and nervous but keeping the fact that we survived in my mind has always encouraged me to strive for more as I have aged. By Matilda Walker, retired senior ecologist for the United Nations.