Australian Jewish survivors recount how the fire swept into their home in 45 minutes

Residents from the Kangaroo Valley have been forced to flee their homes


Martine and Gavin Folden expected their New Year’s Eve to be very busy hosting diners at Betty’s Bar, their Kangaroo Valley restaurant. But, instead, they were camping 20 km away, having been evacuated as bush-fires threaten their property.

Now the Foldens, with their two children, are sleeping in their caravan in the showground of popular tourist town, Berry. They are accompanied by two horses, two dogs and two cats.

Ms Folden told the JC: “It’s apocalyptic but we’re coping. We’ve been here a couple of days and we don’t know how long we will have to stay.”

The Foldens describe their accommodation as having “refugee status”. She explained: “We have a 1972 caravan which we converted to a coffee bar. We took out the coffee machine and put in a couple of mattresses.”

Gavin, Martine and the two children Yumi, 11, and Cisco, 9, have no cooking facilities in their temporary home.

The Foldens have been permitted to visit their property. Martine added: “I went there this morning to check on a couple of farm animals which had been left.

“All was fine as the fire has not reached our property as yet. From here at Berry we can see the red glow reflecting in the clouds and the smoke is orange-coloured. It looks surreal.”

There are a few Jewish families who have holiday homes in the area but the Foldens believe they are the only Jewish evacuees in Berry. But they are far from the only Jewish victims of Australia’s devastating bush-fires.

Cecily and Roger Parris left their home in Conjola Park on the south coast of New South Wales on New Year’s Eve morning to visit the hairdresser in nearby Milton — but their return home was blocked as a ferocious fire swept through their township, destroying their house.

“We are shell-shocked. We have just seen our ruined house. It’s very sad,” Ms Parris said.

“We left before ten. There was smoke haze around but no alerts.

“Three-quarters of an hour later, when we were on our way back, there was a fire.”

The Parris home was devastated in the fire (Photo: Henry Benjamin)

David Eley was three years old in 1968 when his father died battling bush-fires. Today, he is chef at Sydney’s Our Big Kitchen (OBK), supervising the food being prepared for firefighters.

Rabbi Dovid Slavin, OBK chief executive, paid tribute to him: “The image of a toddler receiving his late dad’s medal moved us all to tears reminding us what happened just over 50 years in the fires of October 1968 when Greg Eley, a young volunteer firefighter, lost his life leaving behind a pregnant wife and their young son David.”

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