Museum donation recalls St Andrews’ Black Saturday story

Stella and the animals
Stella and the animals
Image: Stella Reid
Source: Stella Reid

Media contact: Alex Dook  
adook@museum.vic.gov.au

Over 50 personal items, including a Country Fire Authority uniform and a melted set of cutlery, have been donated to Museum Victoria by two St Andrews residents who lost their home and wildlife shelter in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

On 7 February 2009, CFA volunteer Stella Reid and her husband Alan were tending to the animals at Wildhaven, their wildlife shelter in St Andrews, 40km north of Melbourne. At 12:30pm, the CFA pager summoned Stella to duty. At 4pm she and her CFA team were fighting a small grass fire 5km west of Stella’s home. The fire was put out within 10 minutes, but while replenishing the CFA truck's water supplies, they heard an explosion; a nearby car and garage were on fire. They rushed to protect the house, but a roaring wind came upon them and they soon were surrounded by fire.

"We didn't know what was happening," Stella said. "We called St Andrews to tell them to get out, but we could barely describe what we were witnessing. On the drive back to St Andrews we saw houses, cars and sheds, all burnt to the ground. Birds were falling from the sky."

After five hours of fire fighting, Stella's worst fears were confirmed; she was told her wildlife shelter, animals, and home had been destroyed by the fires.

"I found Alan at the fire station. He was in a bad way," Stella said. "He tried to protect our home from the fire alone. He was lucky to escape with his life."

"Most of the St Andrews community were completely shell-shocked after the fire, but teams of volunteers from surrounding areas arrived over the following weeks to assist with the clean up and rebuilding. The generosity of the Australian people was fantastic."

Six months after the fires, the Reids were visited by Museum Victoria curators wanting to document their story.

"We spoke about the fires and what was left behind and how people had helped," Stella said. "Many of the objects we have donated were gifts from the public which represent the kindness and generosity of people from all over Australia. That's why these objects ought to be seen by people in the future."

"Stella and Alan's story is one of individual courage and community generosity," said Dr Richard Gillespie, Head of Museum Victoria's Humanities Department. "Stories like this define Victoria, and Museum Victoria is proud to become custodian of the objects and have a role in preserving the Reids' story."

The donated objects will be available for viewing around the world, on Museum Victoria's Collections Online resource.

Museum Victoria Public Relations contact:
Alex Dook, 8341 7141 / 0478 348 880,  adook@museum.vic.gov.au

For all general public enquiries, contact the museum's Discovery Centre