Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Fire (Part 2)

The sad story of The Fire continues. This is a very dark post.

At 12.30am (Tuesday 19 March) (a month ago) my mobile rings. Unusual that I even left it on as I often silence it at night.  One of my tenants calls me as his friend lives next door to HH.  All I remember were his words "I'm sorry but Hanworth is on fire".  I know I got there quickly as the road was not yet closed.

I rang Builder HH - I knew he would be an asset to the fire crew.

I can't remember how I felt. But I remember not being able to unlock the door at my home to get out - I am sure I was in shock. Upon arriving at the scene, I yelled to the firemen that noone was inside."Thank God" one of  them said. Then I was very much alone - and cold.

I must admit the hours from 12.30 to 4.30 were quite a blur.  I remember telling a "media person" to go away. Then realised she had a gun... then realised she probably wasn't a media person !  There were teams and teams of firemen (and yes most of them quite cute!) - but I did not really even look at them until at least 3am! By that time the shock was wearing off and I was slowly getting back to my old self!

The fire ran through the roof, And it seemed hours before they could put it out. And it was close to 4am when they did.  But, in my bid to always find something nice, amidst all the confusion, there was a lovely community story.

Ray's Breads had just opened at the East Brisbane shops so here was this beautiful owner (like a god sent angel), who must have provided about 3 dozen coffees for us and the firemen,with the most gorgeous smile on his face. How beautiful is that community spirit? Thank you Ray's Breads. I am a lifelong customer now and urge anyone who lives nearby to pop in and support them. I am sure it was their busy hour for baking - this story really warmed my heart on a night which was cold, both physically and emotionally. He will forever more be known as Baker HH.  And he has been given this HH Blog's first Award for Community Service.

So as the sun rose, the reality sank in more.  Builder HH's "reality check" stories about the state of the ballroom prepared me for the fact that it was pretty devastated. But not even his description really prepared me the grim reality of what I was to witness for myself. Remember how it looked the night before?

Well brace yourself because this was it now.

and where had that glorious white marble fireplace gone?

The mood was one of quiet introspect. What could have possibly gone wrong? As time wore on, the evidence was pointing to an arson attack.  That was when my sadness became madness - what could possibly cause someone to action this random act on our Green Lady?

I decided to talk to the media (no guns this time!) so the morning was a round of interviews on the radio and TV along with hundred of phone calls, emails and text. I had to tell people about HH, raise awareness of an individual who brought so much devastation, not only on HH but the possessions of my parents that were already in it. And recount how precious an asset HH is to Brisbane and to the local community.   Losing my beautiful mother and the house being restored in her honour within a few months was almost too much to bear.

But talking helped...

And being surrounded my friends and family helped ...

And the shock was palpable from those who were routinely coming to work that day.  I am sure even Carpenter HH really quite missed those raspberry walls now!  Kitchen man HH was coming to do the final install until he heard the news. The white goods van turned around when they heard me on 4BC.  I slowly started to realise that the first didn't affect just me, it affected the entire team.

Miss HH was distraught - she knew how much this place meant.  But she was a rock to me that day - and I can never forget that! She even wore a dress given to her by my mother.

Sorry this is so sad. But it was! The hours flew by until, finally at 4pm, I was officially allowed back into the house. Then it got worse. And the tears (and tiredness) just overcame me.

Our site office was basically a wet mess.

Our much loved lectern of many many years an ashen shadow of its former glorious self. The roof bare bones after its battle with both fire and water.

And the piano which I purchased with the house, and which had been a part of HH for so many years, was burnt almost beyond recognition.

 ... and remember the roses? Well I have the possums to thank for the fact that they in fact single handedly saved the dining room from total devastation.  The possums need to have a post all of their own in their honour! And a Victoria Cross awarded to them!   But, until this day, they have actually been the bane of my existence. Every night each door is painstakingly closed to save them having a field day in our new rooms!  I closed the door between the dining and lounge room. I give you Exhibit A - the dining room - down but not totally out!

Black fireplace blacker - but still intact.  Cornices and walls damaged, but salvageable. You be the judge! How much debt do I owe those damn possums?

I didn't appreciate them that day though!  I just remember sobbing most of the afternoon.  Overcome with grief, disbelief at the callous and wonton act of an individual, and so so tired. The documentary crew came (subject of another post - so much to tell you all). But they came at the all time low point of the day. All I remember was the producer in tears, the team having shared so much of this journey with me too. And I remember me completely covered in ash sitting on the front steps surrounded by what seemed like mountains of charred ruins.

Tomorrow was to be my birthday... But for now the piano with the parched roses became the symbol of the fire at Hanworth House - roses being my mum's favourite - for some reason they remained as a sign that resilience was probably the only thing left now to which to aspire.

And we went to bed with the the fire at Hanworth House being  part of the television news of the day:

And woke up with the fire at Hanworth forming part of the print news on my birthday (and page 4 of The Australian no less!)

to be continued...
 (with the promise that, as19 March was ashen bottom, my birthday on 20 March must get better!)

x HH


  1. I was lost for words that day after and still am. More power to HH for enduring this tragedy. So sad, it still brings a tear to my eye reflecting on this terrible time. The strength of HH was and still is amazing and incredible - I am very proud to know both of them.

    1. Proud to know you too Brett W. You shared more than you bargained to share on your last visit to Brisbane!

  2. Are you sure this is reality HH? It sounds like the most fantastically plotted novel. I can tell this will one day be the most inspirational story to give encouragement to all of us who feel we're beaten or have been dealt a bad hand. Congratulations on your tenacity....and resilience!

  3. You are right you know. It really isn't like reality. Sometimes it just feels like outside looking in! I think resilience is the right word - I think we all have it - just that it is never really tested (thank goodness for most of us it isn't!)

  4. I was gutted when I heard about this on the news - for your personal loss and for the loss to our shared heritage. But, from your recent posts I get the feeling that things are looking a bit brighter. Good luck with the upcoming recovery and renovation, if I can be of any help please let me know.

  5. Thanks A House in Auchenflower - I just popped to your blog - what a great idea. Love to be included if you think HH is interesting and become a second entry in the 1860s. Yes things are getting a bit better (will be Really good when the insurance is sorted) and we can start again as I am just itching to get goign to return it to how it should be. Will stay in touch for sure. x HH

  6. Good to hear - I look forward to following the renovations. It would be interesting to do a full history of the house and land at some point, just let me know if/when you want to add another project to your busy life! All the best.

  7. Always up to another project! I have started assembling it all as some local historians have done lots of the leg work already - fascinating. That was how I was able to write the posts about the history - love your blog too! x HH