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Ash Wednesday Exhibition at Prospect Hill

The Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983 will live long in the memories of the people of South Australia and Victoria.

They claimed 75 lives, including 28 in South Australia. Hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged, livestock losses in South Australia exceeded 250,000 while thousands of kilometres of fencing had to be replaced.

The tiny settlement of Prospect Hill, just outside Meadows in the Adelaide Hills, was hard hit by the fires.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the fires, the History Trust of South Australia has funded an Ash Wednesday Exhibition at the local museum.

Many of the historic buildings which form part of the museum were burnt out in the fires, including the one housing this exhibition.

Two lives were lost in the fire at Prospect Hill. Jane Winifred Gregurke, aged 24 and 23 year old Warren John McCourt, both of Ascot Park, were house sitting on that fateful day 25 years ago.

The fire claimed 16 homes in the district while the town also lost its Scout Hall and CWA Hall.

The exhibition has been co-ordinated by Meredith Newman who says the bushfire had a massive impact on the area.

She says seven people were interviewed to tell their personal stories.

The exhibition features display boards of photographs and newspaper clippings together with items salvaged from the fire including melted bottles and cameras.

A Country Fire Service uniform belonging to the late Keith Griggs is also on display together with an old firefighting knapsack and remnants from the Oakely home where the young couple lost their lives.

Dairy farmer Joyce Smart is one of those whose story is told in the exhibition.

She remembers well that hot day in February 1983.

"I was down at the local fire shed at that time and I thought I must get home, I must get home, because of all my livestock that I had to shift into a paddock where I hoped they were going to be safe."

She says all the cows panicked and rushed up into the corner of a paddock and there was no way they could get out.

"As the fire was approaching I yelled and yelled and called them by name and they came down through the flames and the fire to me. I'll never forget they were holding their heads straight up trying to keep their eyes and their mouths out of the flames."

The 42 cows came down to Joyce, who kept calling them by name to keep them calm. An old man kangaroo also joined the group.

Sadly, for Joyce, while she managed to save the livestock her home was destroyed.

"I thought it was still there, but I opened the door and it was all alight inside and everything just exploded. So I lost all my home, hayshed and stockfeed."

Like so many people Joyce says it doesn't seem like it was 25 years ago. "It's a day you can never ever forget. I think somebody was with me that day."

The Prospect Hill Museum is open Sundays from 2pm-4pm.

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Last Updated: 16/02/2008 5:01:19 AM

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