We were travelling home on the tram, me from school and Mum from work, when we saw the chaos and heard the noise as the tram slowly ground to a halt in Dominion Road. Then we smelled it and saw the smoke billowing. As we drew closer we saw the flames and the firemen with giant hoses trained on them, trying desperately to extinguish the fire. It was our home, with fire engines all around it. Well, in truth, it was a boarding house where we had a room and kitchenette with an alcove for the bed and a shared bathroom. But, at that moment, it felt like the most precious place in the world and we had to scramble to get to our stuff.
“Hold it lady,” the fire chief called out. “You can’t go in.”
“But all my possessions are in there,” said Mum and burst into tears.
“I’m sorry you can’t go in lady. Can I call your husband?” We were both in tears now, “No, he’s dead,” she said. The poor man looked shattered.
I remember darkness falling and a feeling of dread. I wondered, when would I get my dinner and what would I wear to bed as I only had my school uniform to sleep in.
Most of the old wooden building on the corner of Onslow and Dominion Roads was saved but lots of our things were smoke and water damaged. Except for Teddy, he smelled of smoke but was clean and dry. What a relief. He must have been hiding under a blanket.
We still have items of furniture recovered from the blaze. There were two small wooden stools painted white with gold crackle ornamentation that had hinged, padded seats covered with tapestry. After the fire the stools were wet and smoke stained and there is still evidence of water damage where it created corrugations on the plywood insets. Many incarnations of paint and padding later the stools remain in the family and are used to hold precious keepsakes like baby bootees and matinee jackets and toddler’s first shoes.
The good news, after the fire, was that we were now officially homeless and therefore qualified for a state house. We eventually moved to a duplex which was on the tram route to my school, St Benedicts, just off Symonds Street. We lived there until I turned nineteen years of age.