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Four months on from the deadly Pinery
bushfires, former AFL footballer Luke
McCabe is still counting his blessings as
plans to rebuild take shape.
McCabe, who played 138 games for
Hawthorn and was a dual premiership
player and Jack Oatey Medallist for
Central Districts in the SANFL, tragically
lost his family home in the blaze which
burned out of control on November 25.
The blaze tore through the property in
Hamley Bridge, destroying their home
and a majority of their farm, as well as
livestock, crops and machinery.
McCabe’s main concern at the time was
not for his property however, but for wife
Judy who was attempting to evacuate
the family home as the fire approached.
“Judy was there when the fire hit, so
I think the whole thing is a lot more
realistic and traumatic for her.
“She got out just in time, in another five
or 10 minutes she would have been in
The fires which started in Pinery in the
State’s lower mid-north, burned through
more than 85,000 hectares leaving two
dead and over a dozen hospitalised.
McCabe had been carting sheep on his
Hamley Bridge farm around 10am when
he noticed thick smoke on the horizon.
It wasn’t long before fire crews arrived at
Long Plains where the blaze had started.
McCabe and his brother Adrian,
who also lost property, farmland and
livestock in the fires, grabbed their water
gear and joined a fire unit in attempting
to extinguish the flames.
“We got out the back of the fire, but we
soon realised there wasn’t much we
could do to put it out.
“While we were trying to save another
property the wind changed direction and
started to move towards the farm.”
McCabe quickly called his wife and told
her to go to Riverton, where their two
youngest children were sheltering at
“I had to call Judy and tell her to get
out, there was no way I could get back
“The house was about 35kms away and
it only took the fire 15 minutes to get
there, which gives you an idea of just
how fast it was moving.”
McCabe and his brother continued to
fight other fires until about 4pm when
he was eventually able to return to his
All that remained of the house was a
blackened shell, and fortunately the
family dog Fergus, who miraculously
survived after refusing to get in the car
when McCabe’s wife evacuated.
“I think he must have gone and hid in
a shed,” says McCabe who described
the scene upon returning to his home as
“I just accepted the fact as there were
bigger problems to deal with.”
McCabe counts himself extremely lucky
and says things could have been much
“The sky was black, you couldn’t see
a thing, no one knew what they were
“The amount of people we saw driving
the wrong way, into the fire, was crazy.
“I heard of a workman who was trying to
fight the fire and the flames just leaped
over a massive shed and were on him
before he had time to react. All he could
do was hold the hose above himself, it’s
lucky more people weren’t killed.”
McCabe and his family went to Adelaide
the next day to stay with his parents.
“We just needed a shower and some
new clothes; it was hard to know where
to start and what to do next,” he says.
“We were extremely lucky having a lot of
family support and places to stay.
“If you’re a farmer on your own things
would be a lot more overwhelming, the
amount of decisions to make...and just
before Christmas too”.
McCabe says the events severely shook
up the community, and whilst plans
were in place, many people felt relatively
safe from such a catastrophic event
occurring so close to Adelaide.
Two lives were tragically lost in the fires
and, according to McCabe, “it affected a
lot of people”.
“There were huge funerals and
memorials with an unbelievable sense
of community. If anything good came
out of this, it’s that it brought people
together and the community became
The SA Pinery Fire Appeal raised over
$1.8 million dollars as of December
2015 and McCabe says there are
still volunteers in town now from
organisations such as BlazeAid.
“There was that much support you
felt bad for taking it; we had to start
knocking people back.
McCabe says the Catholic community
were an integral support system for
“All the local church groups were
amazing and really provided that sense
of community support in their work to
McCabe’s two eldest children board at
Catholic colleges in Adelaide that also
offered their support.
“Both Sacred Heart and in particular
Loreto College were outstanding in their
offerings of support to us and the kids,”
“The kids lost everything so it was great
to get that support from the schools.”
McCabe and his family are currently
living in Tanunda and have started the
difficult process of clearing the land.
An estimated 60,000 tonnes of rubble
and debris has been left behind and
it could take more than two years to
complete the recovery effort in affected
However, McCabe says volunteers and
aid workers have injected money into
communities and there is no shortage of
local people prepared to work.
Machinery is being shared and aid has
been distributed to people who have
lost their homes.
Despite the hardships to come, McCabe
says he thinks they are going to rebuild.
“Trees are always falling down and
everywhere you look there’s a job.
“The site is a mess and still needs to be
cleared, but it looks like we may have
the option to keep some of the original
walls if we rebuild.
“We’re going to wait for plans first and
then decide what we’ll do.
“Fortunately we are all safe and have
options; some are a lot worse off and
will be doing it tough, which is where
community support is so important”.
Rebuilding after the blaze
By Jack Manning
GUTTED: McCabe’s family home was completely destroyed in the fire. Above left, Luke
McCabe during his time as a Central Districts footballer.
Join us in the celebration followed by morning tea
and then shared lunch.
17 April 2016 at 10am
3 James road Para Hills
Vicar General Fr Philip Marshall will be officiating
the mass. Past and present clergy, sisters and
parishioners invited and all are welcome.
50th Anniversary Celebration
Holy Trinit y Church
in Para Hills Modbury Parish
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