Location: Manning Valley
Date: October 2010

October 19, 2010. I felt guilty this morning about not taking a photographic sojourn somewhere so far this month despite my promises, so I finally bit the bullet and fired up Bluey. It was the wrong time of day for shutter bugging, of course, with the sun high in the sky. Nonetheless, I managed a few happy snaps and then happened upon a couple of unexpected opportunities.

I turned off the old Pacific Highway at Taree airport and headed via the back road to Lansdowne where I took a few pics of the cute little Church of the Epiphany, as well as a few railway-crossing and countryside shots. I just adore old country churches. Then I traveled further north to Coopernook where I took another few pics of the local Saint Luke's church. As I walked up the street, I noticed a lovely old heritage house across from the church which I later discovered to be Saint Luke's rectory. Then I noticed something interesting next door... a burned out house.  I poked around wondering how I'd get a decent shot of the ruin (fenced by a tall green screen) when a bloke approached from the other side of the fence. He later introduced himself as Les. We got to chatting and he told me the old house was a former maternity hospital built in 1905. It later became a hostel - a sort of boarding house - for local farm workers. Then someone bought it and turned it into a large private residence which was sold to Les about 12 years ago. Les and his wife raised their kids there. A little over 2 months ago, a fire broke out in the middle of the night and reduced it to rubble.

I asked Les if I could take pics from inside the fence and he invited me to tour the property. So that was a bonus. At first I thought he might have suspected me of being a nosey parker. He was most informative as we wandered around the yard. He described all the old timbers used in buildings of that vintage (I think he said red cedar), and the way they used to tar the timbers to deter white ants. It was the tar that created such intense heat when the fire took hold.

Les and his wife were asleep when the fire broke out. By the time the explosions woke them, their only choice was to get out as quickly as possible. They lost everything... thousands of dollars worth of electrical equipment and computers, a huge CD and DVD collection, furniture, jewelry, clothing... the lot. "I jumped out of bed and grabbed a pair of track pants. In the panic I broke the tie cord and the pants were swimming on me. But we had to get out. The thick smoke was acrid and choking. I woke the next door neighbors who called emergency. Meanwhile, I grabbed the garden hose. It was useless. The fire was intensely hot. I was hosing one side window when it exploded. I'd manage to extinguish one fire and while I hosed another the previous one would burst back into flames. It was impossible. When the fire trucks eventually arrived, the place was an inferno. They couldn't get their hoses to squirt water into the interior because of the overhanging eaves. I was expecting them to grab their axes and force their way inside but no. The heat was far too extreme and they kept their distance." Les said he could still taste the tar from the smoke even after 10 weeks.

But Les is philosophical. The house was insured, and he still owns the land. The 180 degree view from the front veranda is stunning with miles and miles of flat farming country ringed by majestic mountains in the distance.

Click here for the Google street map photo of the house before the fire.

I thanked Les for the tour and his enlightening narration and then toddled off to whence I'd come. On the way back there's an old iron railway bridge across the Lansdowne River. So I pulled over to check it out, and walked right up to the tracks. There I was taking pics of railway lines and the bridge and yadda yadda when I heard  warning bells at the nearby level crossing. A train was approaching! So I got organized and waited for the train to emerge from the bridge. The driver blasted his airhorns at me but I wasn't moving for anybody.

So there ya go. A trip to the countryside turned out to be a lot more exciting than I'd anticipated. Les said he's rarely at the old house... that he turned up today to mow the lawn and just happened to be there when I approached. And then at the railway bridge a train "just happened" to come along when I was there. Coincidence? Click here for the photo album.


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