In Ash Wednesday’s aftermath, golf continued at Lorne Country Club
Lorne’s nine-hole golf course was still smouldering when the club’s superintendent Peter Wheal returned home from his honeymoon in Bali, five days after Ash Wednesday fires burned across the region.
He’d heard nothing of Ash Wednesday until his parents picked him up from the airport and they drove home to the coast.
“Through Aireys, it had all been burnt… I came back and the fairways were still on fire; they were burning like peat, because it had been such a dry year,” he said.
“So I ended up going around and chopping around the rings to stop it spreading.”
The clubhouse was reduced to ashes and the machinery shed was a pile of ruin, but somehow the Wheals’ home, which backs on to the golf course, survived.
“We got equipment lent to us, the machinery companies were really good – lent us a greens mower, a tractor, we had that sort of stuff sitting here ready to go that quickly,” he said.
Mr Wreal said a priority was getting a clubhouse back up and running so the club’s liquor licence was not voided.
“They put one of those site sheds in the car park and ran a temporary bar out of that, because the clubhouse was still a pile of burnt ruins.
“They got the machinery shed up pretty quick and then this was the clubhouse for 12 months while the other one was getting rebuilt.”
Despite there being little left of the course as it once existed, Mr Wheal said play resumed shortly after the fires.
“I don’t think it stopped, to be honest; golf continued.
“The whole town sort of kicked in helping clean up because there was a lot of houses around the other side of town that got burnt, but the main part of town was okay.
“There was a lot of cleaning up to do, all burnt trees, limbs on the ground. Where the fairways were burnt, they had to be filled up with soil, resown and that sort of stuff.
“The greens were okay, but we were under water restrictions then… that particular year prior to Ash Wednesday was really dry, we were watering from September and we normally don’t have to start until November, December.
“People were hand watering because we weren’t allowed to use sprinklers.”
A change in wind direction prevented the Ash Wednesday fires passing the Erskine River into the heart of Lorne, while the golf club provided a fire break which Mr Wheal said helped save the township.
“The golf course probably saved the town in a way because the fire came from the north and it was a good fire break, and the wind changed too, which was when it took off to Aireys.
“There was nothing left, no trees between fairways,” Mr Wheal said of the course after the fires.
Mr Wheal behind the green of the first hole, looking over to where his family home survived the fires.
The course clubhouse was rebuilt on its existing footprint by local builder Ted Purdie.