Linda Gordon, over at Throughstones (a serene and inspiring environmental art blog) knows that I’m an incurable animal lover, and she may even suspect that I’m a huge fan of Temple Grandin. She sent me this bittersweet story – a piece of good news out of the awful Australian wildfires.
Anthony Sexton walked off his property at 5.30pm on Saturday leading a horse with one hand, nursing a beer in the other and wearing his work clothes from the Yallourn W power station. Behind him lay the small hobby farm he had called home for 30 years — surrounded by flames.
The horse he led off the property and the smelly clothes he still wears represent a large portion of his remaining worldly belongings. A singed four-wheel-drive, old Massey Ferguson tractor, an old car, and a collection of charred cigarette lighters salvaged from the wreckage of his house probably round out the list.
The 130-year-old farmhouse he was slowly bringing back to its former glory had been flattened by the Gippsland blaze, and he estimates 97 per cent of his farm was burnt out.
“We were sitting there and we were watching the fire. And it was up here in the mountains. We were watching the fire front go through and we thought we were safe,” he said. “And then all of a sudden the cool change came in, the smoke came in, the sun went and my denial turned into panic.
Mr Sexton grabbed his horse, Jeune Mark, the offspring of 1995 Melbourne Cup winner Jeune, a cold beer from the fridge and walked out the gate. They started trotting, but just a few hundred metres from home they were confronted by flames.
“As we got up around the corner the flames just went absolutely sick, so I thought we’d turn around and try and race back. But the fire came up behind us, it came down from the hill, and we were just bloody engulfed, and I just thought to myself, ‘That’s it. This is where I’m going to die,’ ” he said.
But then something remarkable happened, perhaps by accident, perhaps not. Jeune Mark pushed him over a guard rail, and after a short wrestle with the horse he stumbled and raced, afire, down to the Traralgon Creek and lay in it.
A few hours later, he climbed back up to his house. “Everything was gone. Everything was flattened. The land was flattened. All my fences are gone, my fern gully is gone, everything’s gone.”
Jeune Mark, however, was standing in the paddock, the worse for wear, with burns around his eyes and nose, but still alive. “I was over the moon (when I saw him).”
Mr Sexton’s house, at Koornalla in the foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges, is one of scores of houses thought to have been flattened by the Gippsland blaze. This blaze has claimed at least nine lives.
Complete story at The Age