Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

One hell of an inferno at TMAG

Rebecca Kissling of Oatlands, was only 4 when her family home on Forest Rd burnt down. The only object that survived was a silver soup ladle given to her parents as a wedding present.

Sally Glaetzer, All that remains from the ashes, The Mercury, 4 February 2017

Who knew a soup ladle could evoke such powerful memories? The simple stainless steel utensil which lives in Rebecca Kissling’s kitchen drawer, was given to her parents as a wedding present before they emigrated from Germany in 1960.

Seven years later, it was the only thing left when the family’s weatherboard West Hobart home was destroyed in the bushfires that tore across parts of Southern Tasmania, killing 64 people and injuring hundreds of others.

As Rebecca puts the ladle on her mother Barbara’s kitchen table she remembers, as a four-year-old on the day of the fires, her plastic sandals sticking to the melting tar of Forest Rd, where the family lived on the edge of Knocklofty Reserve.

Her elder sister Esther was down the hill at Gouldburn St Primary School.

She recalls a growing sense of unease as the teachers huddled in hushed conversation in the yard, the sun an ominous ball of red.

Barbara, now in her 80s, had survived the firebombing of Darmstadt in 1944, when her family fled their burning home with nothing but a few pieces of silver cutlery.

When the fires came on February 7, 1967, they came from both sides, down from the hills of Knocklofty and up across the paddocks from South Hobart . . .

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s current exhibition on the fires, One Hell of an Inferno, includes items salvaged from the ashes.

Kevin Kiernan has lent the exhibition a sculptural collection of molten pipes and glass found in the remains of his childhood home at Fern Tree.

“We decided it was probably part of the washing machine,” he says of the item he displays proudly in his home, which he rebuilt on the site in 1983 for his family.

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