There is a fascinating exhibition as part of the commemorations for Black Tuesday about items that real families took when they left their homes, fleeing the bush fires.

There are stories of hidden jewellery, war medals later found in the rubble, precious items that survived heat that could melt a telephone. Furniture and possessions piled out in the front yard.


One mother packed a small case filled with toys and cardigans for the children, nappies for the baby and the family photograph album.

As the drama unfolded for the adults, the children at Sorrell School were evacuated to open ground. A circus was in town and camped there. So the children remembered the excitement of seeing elephants wading at the water’s edge. One of their best school days ever. A total contrast to other memories of the day.

One unexpected item that many young women took with them was their contraceptive pills. It is something my generation and my daughter’s generation take for granted. We forget how revolutionary it was, how it gave women real control of their fertility for the first time in history. For women born in the 1930’s, forty percent had nine or more pregnancies. The Pill changed that. It was introduced in Australia in 1961, but was still controversial at the time of the fires. Many doctors would only prescribe it to married women, it was relatively difficult to obtain, so it was a precious possession.

What would you take?