One tragic Tuesday in Tasmania

What would you take?

On Tuesday 7 February 1967, southern Tasmania was devastated by fires. Sixty-two people died, 900 were injured and 7,000 people were left homeless in just one day. In February 2017, the Clarence Council in Hobart  organised an exhibition to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that tragic event. The theme of the exhibition was ‘What would you take?’

My family in 1967. Left to right: John, Dad (Ramsay), Paul, Mum (Pauline), baby Samuel, Bruce and me.

This is my story …..  

I was ten years old at the time.

I remember the day vividly. Kids were crying. Adults were rushing around. It was chaotic. Only the elephants seemed calm. This was not Africa or India. This was Tasmania.

The elephants arriving in Sydney late February 1967 after leaving Tasmania
(Image courtesy Fairfax Syndication)


The sound of the siren …

L-R; Brothers Paul and John with my
daughter Sarah at the Exhibition.
That’s Samuel below on the left.

I was in Grade 5 and attended Sorell Area School along with two of my four brothers. The two younger ones hadn’t started school at that stage. At about 2 pm that day the siren sounded. Everyone had to line up in class groups in the corridors. All the kids from one family were taken away by people who seemed to be in authority because their house had just burnt down.


The smell of the fire …

As for the rest of us, we were all herded out onto the oval in front of the school along with teachers and other staff. The sun was a bright red, orange ball, the shadows were orange,  the heat was savage, the smoke was thick and embers were flying everywhere and attaching themselves to our hair, school uniforms and any bits of uncovered skin.  Eventually we were directed to walk about a kilometre to Pittwater – Orielton Lagoon, a stretch of water that connects Sorell to Midway Point by a causeway.

The sight of the elephants …

Nothing unusual in all that about getting a school full of kids to a safe place except for one thing.  We were joined by three elephants and their carers. It just so happened that Ashton’s Circus was in Sorell at the time.  The water level at Pittwater was very low due to the drought preceding the fire. But the elephants didn’t mind. It was enough for a spray and a romp in the water and perfect for a mud bath. 

Packing the hatbox …

Five cardigans for five kids (not the original ones).
These were knitted by the Clarence CWA ladies
for the exhibition.
My brothers and I eventually got picked up from Pittwater by the Over-The Road’s daughter. We used to call our neighbours the Over-The-Roads because they lived over the road. When we got home Dad was out fighting fires with Mr Over-The-Road and Mum was packing the hat box. The hat box never had hats in it. It was always used as a suitcase. 

That’s what we would take …

When Mum finally made the announcement that it was time to go, none of us were really sure why or where we were going. But she assured us that everything we needed was in the hat box. Five cardigans (one for each child in case it got cold), the photo albums and one dozen towelling nappies for Samuel who was ten months old at the time. That’s what we would take.

End of an era ..


The site of the former Leishman family home which was decimated in 2013


As it turned out our family home was spared in the 1967 bushfires. However, it was burnt to the ground in the 2013 southern Tasmanian bushfires three days before Mum passed away in a nursing home. Mum wanted to take her jade necklace with her this time. That’s all she took ….

The poster displayed at the exhibition. Courtesy of the 
Clarence Council, Hobart, Tasmania



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