Mandy Heiman, aka Maxine (Mandy) Codrington

Was 9 years old, was at school with Coral Sorensen. My mum is 94 and still lives at Faulconbridge. Dad was Sergeant of Police.

We lived in Highland St, 13 houses in that street were destroyed.

During this fateful day I was attending Leura Public School and for some peculiar reason (I said I was unwell) asked if I could go home. I was 8 years of age. On my way home to Highland Street I had a great view of the ridge above Leura to the North. And there I saw a great wall of fire.

The day was incredibly hot and windy and I was already aware of the smoke surrounding me.

Tearing home as fast as I could, I found both my parents at home and told them what I had seen. We ran around the house and locked all the doors and windows. Dad was wetting bags and filling the eaves with water and hosing down the house, it was furious and frightening.

Within no time at all we were aware of the approaching flames and our street was filled with cars and people. Strangers were running into houses and dragging whatever they could into waiting vehicles. It was madness.

Suddenly I was told to leave with my mother. I ran to my father and asked him to help with the rabbits’ cage. We dragged it under the house. I had recently borrowed a male rabbit to mate with my female pet rabbit, Twitchy Thumper – there were 8 naked kittens and Twitchy in the cage.

Then I was whisked away with my mother, leaving Dad behind to fight the then ferocious inferno. Dad belonged to the local Police and some of his co-workers and mates and come to help him. My mother and I left with a terrible sense of foreboding and sheer terror with one of the many kind strangers who magically appeared to help. We left surrounded by fire and smoke and terrified faces.

So, my mum, dressed in a sun frock, and I were ceremonially dumped in the main street of Katoomba where a search was conducted for my two sisters, one worked in the local Dentist and the other was at Katoomba High. We found them and we waited and waited not knowing what was in store.

Eventually we returned to Highland Street. I shall never forget that feeling of not knowing what to expect and the fear of not knowing the fate of our father.

We arrived at the house it was still standing. Dad appeared blackened and limping. He was there though and everything was ok. Many, I think from memory, 13 of our neighbours’ houses were not standing. The whole terrain was a smouldering blackened stinking skeleton. I ran to check under the house. The rabbits were just fine. My school was burnt to a cinder.

My church was burnt to a cinder and my fear of bushfires remains.

Our lives were changed but we coped. The local hotelier approached my mother one day and said he had some girls’ clothing and thought it may belong to her three girls – it did.

All those wonderful people collected stuff from houses and it ended up wherever. It was a terrifying day.

I would walk down our blackened street wheeling the rabbits dressed in dolls’ clothes in a pram and remember just how lucky we were.