The Mum Network

If Your House Was Burning Down In A Bushfire, What Would You Save First?

This post was inspired because I watched an episode of ‘Hoarders” yesterday and it got me thinking about people’s serious attachment to ‘stuff’ – even if you’re not a hoarder, we do often have an unhealthy attachment to ‘stuff’.

With bushfires raging around the country and us Sydneysiders bitching and whinging about the cold weather we’ve experienced over the last month, our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to those who are fighting hard to save their properties from the terrifying bushfires. Please stay safe and remember that your health and safety come first.

Bushfires terrify me. Nearly 10 years ago I received a phone call from Mum whilst I was at work, she wasn’t panicked but she did say “there are bushfires close to our house, is there anything you have at our house that you want me to save? We should be ok but we’re just taking precautions.” I thought about it a lot and asked her to save my formal dress (It was utterly gross and I have no idea why I wanted her to save that but little sis asked Mum to save hers too!) and obviously photos and videos and a few childhood memories that I’d been saving for a gazillion years. Asking her to save my four poster bed that I had as a child and saved for any future daughters seemed a tad extreme.  My sister had her entire life’s worth of possessions at Mum and Dad’s as she was at Bathurst Uni and still in between homes and my little brother, who was only about 9 at the time, had hall his worldly possessions in that house, not to mention Mum and Dad’s life and they had some really nice stuff.

2 hours later Mum called crying “It’s all gone, I haven’t seen it but apparently the house went up in flames and it took about 6 minutes to burn to the ground. Dad was trying to save photo’s and stuff but the house was about to go up and a fireman pulled him out so he didn’t get anything, it’s all gone. Please come and see us”.

That was 2002 and Mum and Dad lived in Toronto in Newcastle at the time. Ours was the only house to go up in flames. It was just a few short months later when over a ten hour period, the Canberra bushfires burned or damaged over 500 homes and tragically, four people died.

I remember Mum and Dad being very shaken to the core about losing photographs and videos, heirlooms. It was, at the time, devastating. Most of all, I recall they missed the comforts of home that we all take for granted, like undies, make up, shoes, toothbrushes – it all had to be replaced. People’s generosity was astounding. Strangers came from everywhere to give what they could. One man walked up to Dad on he driveway as we were inspecting the damage, put $50 in his hand and said “I’m so sorry mate” and walked away before Dad could even say thanks. Human nature is one where we all want to help those in need and the people of Newcastle in NSW have to be some of the most generous people I’ve ever met.

Amazing friends and family came out of the woodwork and gave us photos from the past, that was one of the most important things we lost and whilst Mum and Dad managed to replace a lot of what was lost, one of the biggest things that came from us losing our family home in such devastating circumstances was that we all became very unattached to ‘stuff’. It just wasn’t important anymore, still isn’t. We all learned that even though it’s nice to have nice things, it could all be gone tomorrow and your life doesn’t fall apart if you don’t own it/keep it or hang onto various stuff, things etc. This is what amazes me about people who are reluctant to throw out an old piece of furniture or can’t let go of something bequeathed to them because it was owned by an old dead person (I have a problem with owning old dead people’s stuff but that’s another post!). The best way to explain it is when I ask myself the question “if we had a fire again, what would I save” – the answer is simple and possibly the reason why I post every photo I take to facebook, I would save photos and videos. That’s all (apart from the kids and hubby of course). Photo’s and videos are the memories that are hard to recall when they’re not there. I miss not having photo’s of myself as a baby to compare to those of my kids but beyond that, I know that Mum and Dad are simply grateful to have their lives. The rest could go up in flames and we would all start over again. It’s only stuff and whilst some things have sentimental value, it’s amazing how, when you’re put in a position where you have to cope without things, you do.

I’m not taking away from anyone who has lost a home in a fire, it’s devastating to say the least and to those defending their homes right now, please stay safe. Having been through this with our family though, like most families who’ve hit much harder times than this and people ask “how do you cope?” , you don’t know how you can cope without something until it’s not there but as long as people are safe, the tragedy of losing a home is secondary to losing a person.

If your house was burning, what would you safe first? Would you cope if you lost everything? You’d be amazed how much you can cope with.




  1. Hayley

    So agree! Photos and videos are really the only things I would save. Everything else is replaceable. I even had a doll that my Nanny gave me as a kid and I was so sad that it burnt…. But my Mum replaced it with a similar doll. It wasn’t the original, but it didn’t matter. It was the memories that came with doll that mattered and the fire couldn’t take them away. You could take everything I own away from me right now- as long as my husband and daughter are 100% ok- I kinda think no worries it’s only stuff!

  2. Stu

    Definitely agree with the family, photos and videos. I’d also try to get any important documents like passports, birth certificates and title deeds if they were handy.

    Sounds like having a change of clothes for everyone would be useful too.

  3. Lara, that was a well written post and it caused me to reflect on the day of the fire, for the first time in ages. I think that day is still so vivid in my mind, mainly because it was an innocent young lad (about 13 years old) who came skate boarding down the street, obviously hyped up about the drama and excitement of the firetrucks, policesirens, news crews etc. and as he skaddadled to a stop he breathlessly described the scene, ” man that was cool, that real pretty house just went wow, boom, and exploded like a bomb it was awesome,” and little did he know, that due to road closures, I was stuck in the middle of a blocked off street standing with all the other stunned neighbours wondering how all this drama could be unfolding in our suburb and I was the lady whose home had disappeared.
    “What number was the house, do you know?” I asked. “No but ya must know the one that’s like the gingerbread house” he gasped at my question.
    I didn’t have the heart to tell the poor kid it was our house, he would have felt too bad, and I quite understood his confusion, excitement and notification to the neighbourhood. When I turned away in tears to make phone calls, a lady took me into her house, gave me a drink and realised it was serious. I didn’t know the people in that adjoining street, but by then they all knew me because I was still wearing my work uniform with ‘Ripples on the Lake’ embroidered on it . How handy it might have been if I’d been wearing jeans and tee shirt then and for the next few days.
    The kids and friends used to laugh and encourage my love of shopping, house decorating and planning as I milked the situation to justify my shop, shop, shopping trips to hubby, staff etc.
    That said, not to undermine the sadness of the loss of photos, videos, scrap books and even again this year I was happy to have some of the grandchildrens craft to tizz up the Xmas tree as I lost all the memories and proof of our own kids’ efforts.As I trimmed the tree I would be in a happy daze thinking back on who gave what, when and where. (Funny isn’t it, I often used to think, oh these are so tatty and I can never end up with a DJ’s look, but still I’d hang them with love.)
    I count my blessings, if that’s as bad as it gets then we are a very lucky family thus far. As an old lady once said to me “if we all sound round in a circle and threw our worries into a basket, to distribute, we would be fighting for our own back.” How true I often think.

    PS. Yes Stu grab the legal documents, as it’s frustrating to prove who you are without the proof to prove who you are, or to even know policy numbers, which insurance coy. etc. At a time like that your memory kind of goes blank, just as well our kids knew everything about personal and private business then and now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: