Out of the flames
As we head into another warm and possibly wet summer, one couple from Halcyon Lakeside (QLD) reflect on how their lives have changed since surviving one of Australia's worst bushfires.
After living with the risk of bushfires for almost two decades, Graeme and Robyn McLauchlin's home was engulfed by the ferocious flames of the Black Summer bushfires which ravaged Australia in 2019-2020.
Their 7-acre property was located at Kiah, a picturesque and remote town surrounded by national park on the NSW-Victorian border, which was swallowed up by the fires.
“We had 600 olive trees ready to be harvested as well as walnuts, hazelnuts, citrus fruits and vegetables and a vineyard,” Robyn said.
"We were totally sufficient could fish out of the river, serve it with our own homegrown produce and drink our own wine.”
Almost all of the community’s 73 homes were totally destroyed with the McLaughlin’s home being one of them, the couple evacuating with not much more than the clothes on their back.
Graeme said they had lived with that threat for 20 years so they had a "firebox" near the front door which contained important treasures and trinkets from their life.
"We had to evacuate on New Year's Eve because there had been wild winds and we’d been showered by embers,” he said.
Robyn added: “We were having friends around so there was all this food, so we had to put it away as best we could and evacuate.”
On 1 January, the threat had passed so the couple returned to their home and had a delayed celebration.
“Lots of people came back and we had a big whoop-up dinner,” Robyn said.
A few days later, their property was once again under threat and the couple were advised to evacuate.
Graeme said we had a couple of hours to pack up and Robyn kept bringing more and more things to put in the car while I attended to stock and farm equipment” he recalled.
“I never thought the fire would get to us but I’m glad that Robyn kept putting everything into the car that she could.”
While most of their belongings were destroyed, the incredibly positive couple are grateful they escaped
“We are very lucky that we survived, they were the worst fires we’ve ever seen,” Graeme said.
Ironically, they had made the decision to sell their beloved property in order to make the move closer to their children, who live in Queensland.
"We had put the house on the market and were planning to move, so it was looking at its absolute best,” Robyn said.
The couple joked that the fire meant "they had saved money on a removalist" but they did lose some tapestries Graeme’s mother had made as well as other sentimental heirlooms.
"I've never been back," Robyn said. "I haven’t even looked at all of the photographs of what happened.”
"We're very grateful for the time we had there and we’re very grateful for our life today.”
A NEW LIFE
Moving to Halcyon Lakeside has been a fantastic move for the couple despite Robyn’s initial skepticism about Graeme’s suitability for community living.
“He’s a country boy and he’s used to having lots of land and space,” Robyn said.
"Which is why we were so lucky to get this home as it’s bigger and it’s elevated, you can see all the way to the mountains.”
Robyn said the pair have embraced community life and joked that she is known by one good friend as 'Eddie Everything' because she likes to try all the activities and events on offer.
"Don't get me wrong, everything we went through was a disaster, we were devastated,” she said.
"But we have moved on and the first step was coming here and having our family around has been the saving grace, particularly as not long after we arrived COVID hit.”
"We've met new people, we have new friends and we live in a beautiful place.”