At this time of the year Down Under there are many reports of bushfires. Some are quickly controlled but others go on for days or weeks. My grandfather was caught by one but that was a long while ago.. The dry weather had brought swarms of locusts and by February 1, 1898 Beech Forest was described as being ablaze, just one of the many fires that had been devastating the Otways, turning day into night.
Grandpa and his father and brother had come down each year from central Victoria in the off season to clear land for a dairy farm. It was in the hills above Apollo Bay, then still known by its original name of Krambruk. They had built a house and Grandpa was settling in well.
The Otway Forest was fast coming into prominence as a coastal tourist resort. That summer distinguished visitors to the various small communities were reported, as were the balls and Sports Days. On Tuesday, February 8, 1898 it wasn’t a particularly hot morning, but the wind was gusty. And when the wind swung to the north the burning-off which had been started by the Beech Forrest settlers as a precaution got out of control and headed towards Apollo Bay.
About 11.30 in the morning my grandfather was helping his next door neighbour, William Methven. They saw the fire making for their houses at the top of the ridge so they began to hurry home. Grandpa reached Mr Methven’s house first and stopped briefly for a drink of milk, the older man having lagged behind, then hurried to his own home.
There was little Charles Fricke could do to save his home. The fire was so intense he crouched behind a table with a bucket of water for five hours, tearing the back out of his waistcoat to dip in the water and cover his mouth. The table was too small to cover his feet and the heat drew the nails out of his boots. His horse was the only one of his animals to survive the fire, even though his mane had been burnt off.
Alone, blinded by the heat, he decided he would rather die on the road to the township where his body would be found more quickly. And so, feeling his way with a stick, he set off on the three miles to Apollo Bay. Mrs Costin took him in and put him to bed and nursed him back to health but his neighbour had died trying to reach the sanctuary of the creek.
As the telegraph line was burnt down the news of the fire had to be taken out by horseback. The coaches could not get through as the track became blocked and the corduroy was burning. So it was Friday before the outside world knew what had happened.
After eight years of clearing scrub, splitting palings, fencing, building, and creating a farm, it was a case of start again. First priority was shelter. Grandpa built a temporary humpy using the roofing iron from his burnt home. . And so, full circle, he started again. Dear Grandpa.
Grandpa and his humpy