Raasay exile flees Australian bushfire

A retired courier from Raasay who has been living in Australia for nearly 50 years has spoken of his close shave with the bushfires raging across the south and east of the country.

Eighty-year-old Don MacLeod moved to Australia in 1972 with wife Mairi and sons Donnie and Campbell. He worked as a drinks vendor, a brickmaker and latterly as a self-employed courier in Sydney.

Now living in Coutts Crossing, some 600 kilometres north of Sydney, Don and his wife were evacuated from their home three times in November because of the bushfires.

He told the Free Press: “The fire was less than a kilometre from us. It was really bad with the smoke and hard to breathe outside. We had no idea where the fire was and then we were told to get out in a hurry while the road was still open.

“It was scary round here, with a lot of the forests in the national parks on fire.

”The first time we went to a friend’s place in Grafton which is about 16 kilometres away. The second time we went to another friend’s who was able to take our animals. We look after six young wallabies, little joeys, and he had cages and runs for them so we packed them into two cars and off we went.

“One village, Nymboida, about 20 kilometres away from us was completely wiped out – that was 82 houses. But it’s much better round here now, the fires have gone. They are down on the south coast of New South Wales now, about a thousand kilometres away. That’s where we lived when we first moved to Australia. It’s dreadful down there now.”

Don added: “But it’s still stinking hot here, in the high 30s every day. On Saturday here in Penrith it was 48.9 degrees, although it did rain in Sydney. We sat down to watch the cricket the other night and saw it was raining there. We’re in desperate need of it.”

The bushfires are estimated to have destroyed over six million hectares of forest and habitat. Twenty-five people are known to have died and over 1,500 homes have been destroyed. An estimated 500 million native animals have also perished in the fires.

Article by Michael Russell.