“We had plenty of water and we were well prepared. Our eucalyptus oil distillery, it’s got a pipe right along the roof which sprays water. That was our backup plan – we were all going in that with our hoses because that would have been the safest shed.”
Just before the fire swept onto the farm – as they moved their cattle to safe rocky ground – birds began falling out of the sky, she says. “That was the fear that you got … We had 42 birds dead out on top here before the fire hit. They were falling out of the sky with no oxygen.”
For an hour and 54 minutes the family, with Smiley at their side, fought together to save their farm.
“Because he’s got a big beard he couldn’t go out much because he couldn’t wear a mask or goggles … We had one shed that only had part water on the roof and I said [to Smiley], ‘You watch that place and every so often I want you to run around that workshop and make sure there are no sparks anywhere, plus take care of the cats and dogs in the house.’
“When it did come close to the kitchen window … we both tore out with hoses, I worked one end and he worked the other.“
The fire burnt across 99.9% of their property – which is surrounded by state forest – destroying pastures, fences, their eucalyptus forest and Smiley’s cottage. Andrea says she doesn’t know how they saved their home, cattle, workshop and eucalyptus oil distillery.
Smiley's cottage after the January 4 bushfire.
All the couple’s money has gone into saving and repairing their farm. “We did not have the funds to build him another worker’s cottage. We didn’t want to tell him to leave because he’d be homeless again … If we didn’t have that help from Red Cross we wouldn’t have got this far in building him another place.”
While they finish off the cottage Smiley is living in a caravan on the farm and is doing well, Andrea says. He also received a Red Cross grant to help replace his lost belongings. “He’s as happy as … and there’s a few friends helping him too, a few of our son’s [friends], young people.”
Now Smiley has a bigger space he’s collecting some of his belongings he had left with friends across the state. “He wants to put in a veggie garden over there and things, it’s given him a purpose, actually. He’s really loving it … he’s enjoying having a place to put all his stuff together.”
Smiley and the Sturgess family are building a shed over the new cottage.
Smiley is a private person and Andrea has never asked him how he got his nickname. In fact, for a long time, she didn’t know his real name.
He reminds her of the other older man who once lived in the cottage and whose ashes are scattered near its ruins. “[Smiley] fits in rather well … He’s very kind, he’ll do anything for anybody. That’s why he probably fits in good here because we’d probably do anything for anybody [too].