Real Life

A year on from our Rebuild Our Towns campaign, we speak to 91-year-old Pam, whose home was destroyed in last year’s devastating bush fires

At 91, Pam has rebuilt her beloved family home after it was destroyed in the fires one year ago.
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Bushfire survivor Pam Murphy knows what it’s like to lose everything.

On the night of September 9, 2019 in the picturesque seaside hamlet of Peregian Beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Pam, along with hundreds of other local residents, fled for their lives, escaping a ferocious 70-metre firewall.

As dozens of firefighters bravely fought to save as many houses as they could, no one, least of all Pam, could believe every home was spared – except hers.

“I was at the evacuation centre watching the news and saw my house completely engulfed in flames. I thought, well there’s nothing I can do about what’s done, so I’ll just rebuild – and 16 months later, here I am!” Pam, now 91, tells Woman’s Day from the balcony of her brand spanking new dream home she moved back into just weeks ago.

“I just happened to be the unlucky one that night to 
get hit by a freak fireball. I’ve lived through the Depression and World War II, so this was a walk in the park,” she says with a warm smile.

“I was more traumatised that one of my 12-year-old Burmese cats was missing after the fire. I had Ellie with me but Daisy escaped as I tried to put her into the travel carrier.

“Thankfully, weeks later we found her hiding out next door, and now we’re home. The pair of them are happier than they’ve ever been – they breed us tough this side of the border!”

Plucky Pam says moving to a retirement home was never an option

(Tertius Pickard)

Miraculously, among all 
the rubble, Pam was able to salvage the original plans of the house – the home she built 40 years ago with her beloved late husband.

“Not rebuilding was never an option. I lost my dear Russell in 2005 after 55 glorious years of marriage. I’ve become even more independent since he passed – selling up and moving to a retirement village was never an option,” she says.

“Six years ago I lost our son John to cancer – he so loved this house. For my daughter Angela, who just turned 59, this is her place to come home to, and we have so many wonderful memories as a family here,” says Pam, wiping away a little tear as she remembers all the good times.

Pam’s house was destroyed in the blaze

Despite the heartache, she’s enjoyed choosing modern appliances and picking out new decor.

“I’ve had such fun picking 
out everything from paint colours to new fridges – who’d have thought I’d build the same house twice!” she says.

“It’s mind-blowing how much has changed since we first built. All the appliances I had were dinosaurs like me, so I’ve had to read the manuals to know how to work them all!

“You have to imagine every single thing you own, bar a few bits and bobs, are all but gone, so when you actually come to replace them, it’s been an eye-opener realising how much you don’t need.”

Grateful for so much community support over the past months, Pam owes her biggest thank you to the two most generous neighbours – Lester and 
Jackie Harding – that anyone could hope for.

Pam has completely rebuilt her home from rubble

(Tony Grant)

“They took me in from the beginning. They’ve been amazingly supportive and helped me through the whole ordeal,” she says.

“I have a very busy life with lots of lovely friends. I spend my days painting, walking, playing with my cats and lots of gardening. I don’t even think of bushfires these days – I doubt I could be that unlucky twice.

“Who would’ve thought after nine decades on this earth I would be completely rebuilding my life? I hope I live to 120 just so I can enjoy it all!”


Everything in Pam’s house had been destroyed by fire.

Luckily, she’d taken important paperwork and a few sentimental items with her.

Although she managed to take one of her cats with her, the second, Daisy, had escaped.

When they were cleaning up the house, Pam heard a meow – Daisy had taken shelter under the deck and survived.

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