Wednesday 18 October 2023

A First Hand Account of our Worst Bushfire

There is little doubt that the bushfire of 1929 was the worst recorded since colonization of the Campbelltown area. Although there were no fatalities, the fire destroyed three houses and severely damaged a further five. Much property was also destroyed, leaving a number of families with severe hardship, made worse in the years that followed with the Great Depression. No lives were lost fortunately.

The library contains in it's collection an account of that bushfire. Edna Willis (nee Hayward) lived all her life in Campbelltown and was living with her family at Kentlyn at the time. She was aged around 15 or 16. The interview was recorded in 1977 when she was aged 64. 

Edna starts her description..."Well we were out at Kentlyn then and we could see this great pall of smoke...I might have been 15 or 16 and saw this great mass of smoke going across - just unbelievable - you know when it comes out of a big chimney stack - just like that- going and going. Oh, it was shocking hot. Yes the wind was behind it. The westerly wind brought it right from the railway line, I believe, and it just mowed everything down in front of it. Just took it down." Edna was asked where it came from and she replied that it started from the railway line at Leumeah and Minto and that it was thought that it was from a spark of a train in the grass. She described the roar of the fire that day: "I don't know whether you've heard the roar of a bushfire. They could hear it coming and they just ran with what they had on - this Col Longhurst- his mother and father were one of the families that were burnt out and Mervyn had a pair of shorts on, because as I say, it was a stinking hot day...nothing on his feet, no shirt or anything." She said that this Longhurst family ran to her place because Mrs Longhurst and her mum were very close.

Edna was then asked if the fire came close to her place and if it just got to the river and stopped. She replied that it didn't come up her end and that "it eventually went over the river. Well then it burnt away into nothingness over there. It was quite a wide strip out at Kentlyn. It went through and then it was out at Wedderburn. It was a pretty bad run out there, too. In fact of an evening, you'd sit like and see the flames right up the trees and you'd wonder how much further it was going to come by next morning."

Edna Willis passed away in 2010 aged 96. Below is a photo of her taken in her younger days.

Photo comes from the collection of daughter Jennifer Scott

Written by Andrew Allen


Interview with Edna Willis on 30 November 1977

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