Force of fire (rebuilding)

January 14, 2013

Twenty two years ago an arsonist set fire to a forest that eventually destroyed four homes. Mine was one of them.


At the beginning of the fire, while the house was still whole and standing, two firemen arrived with a fire truck and went, oddly, inside the house and started spraying down the walls. They calmly assured: “The house will be okay, although there will be some smoke and water damage”.


With no need to gather up valuables I had nothing to do except tend to small spot fires in the gardens and small pond at the back of the house while occasionally zipping into the house for a breather when the smoke and heat outside became too great.


But then, just as I walked into the house for another cooling off period, the two firemen ran past me with their firehoses shouting “Quick, get outside, we’re losing it”. Within seconds the whole of the house imploded. All three stories of her.

The heat was so intense that literally nothing survived except for the metal strings of the baby grand piano, the metal roof, water pipes and other non-combustibles. Melted glass puddled on the ground.


The home I had designed and built when I first got to Tasmania in 1985 disappeared as quickly as the fog off the pond on a summer’s morning. The ash pile contained everything I possessed. And I walked away with just the smokey clothes I was wearing.


Except, that is, for one little box. A shoe box that I had grabbed unconsciously as I was fleeing the house.

Later, when opening the shoe box to see what was in it, I told myself that whatever the contents were, they would give me guidance in how to move into my now totally clean, blank slate, mortgage free future unhindered by possessions.

Opening this personal “ark of the covenant” was a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Especially so, since only a month earlier while canoeing down the Arthur river I had knelt down in prayer on a riverbank at dusk one evening and stated to the darkening air: “I am ready to be of greater service”.

Inside were two small items. Both would provide an important message in how and what I should be doing in the years to come.

The first was a small packet of brads. The type of nail used in fine, finish work. What this signified to me was the importance of “rebuilding” again; to continue my life as an artist — a creative maker of things beautiful and finely crafted — but now, using art in service for the greater good.

The second item was even more significant as it provided an insight into how I might approach a future dedicated to “being of greater service”. No, it wasn’t a book on the wisdom of the Buddha. Nor some religious reliquary. Rather, it was a plain packet of condoms.

All smiles and giggles aside, the condoms symbolized two things. The first was simply to find pleasure in the daily activities of life again and not be overly burdened by those huge material losses suffered.

Secondly, I took the packet of condoms to symbolize “sensuality” rather than “sexuality”. Coupling the condoms with the nails, i.e. sensuality with art, I then added the notion of “being of greater service”. Thus began the slow process of educating myself on the many philosophical, cultural and spiritual issues surrounding deep ecology, ecofeminism, social ecology, systems theory and the evolutionary science behind the sensuality of our planet Gaia.

“Re-sacralizing the sensual” became my artistic calling. And has continued so for the past twenty two years.

I turned the ashes of my Bonnet Hill home into what is now called Windgrove: a refuge for learning.


The Real work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Wendell Berry

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Bennett March 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm


I recall that Phil Bosnich helped build your home that sadly was taken by that freak fire. He had also previously built my neighbour’s 2 story celery top extension.

I was sad some years ago to hear he had taken his life.

I had first met him in the early Wilderness Society meetings planning to save the Franklin.

Is there information out there on Phil’s life?

I remember him fondly.

Steve Bennett, Cascades

Donald January 22, 2013 at 2:54 pm

So glad the fire didn’t touch you directly. I wish you all the best along with all of your community. I lived with fires every summer growing up on the South Coast of NSW. Frightening and magnificent!
Loved hearing this tale of your first house again! A tale of redemption.
Hope to see you soon!

Bini January 19, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I have been in this house once. I have seen the yellow gras softly dancing in the warm wind from the balcony. I have had the most important conversation I have ever had. I have been there only once and it changed my life. 10 days later it was gone. But the change stayed. Have not left the path until then. Thanks Peter!

Ann January 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

An extraordinary and inspiring story Peter. I always find the smell of smoke triggers memories. I am glad to hear all is well for you this time. Thank you for the poem. I find myself right in the middle of it.

Aaron January 15, 2013 at 11:45 am

I remember that house, it was a work of art…

Dock January 15, 2013 at 8:12 am

Peter, just read your story. Funny how so many things in my life are connected in some way…
As a younger Dock, when I needed to “get away from it all” I used to drive up your road and sit on the side of the hill to regain my ‘balance’. Your home always caught my attention and I used to dream of building a home like it when ‘I grew up’. I remember that fire but didn’t realise it had taken properties along that hillside until the day I drove up to find my peace. I was totally devastated when I came across the mess that was “my perfect house”. I mean devastated! I think I might even had cried. I stood outside the gate for ages in total disbelief. I went back a few more times but it wasn’t the same for me and eventually I stopped visiting. Finally I have a chance to tell you (the owner/builder) how sorry I am/was that you lost such a precious dream home. It was beautiful while it lasted.

Sara Firman January 15, 2013 at 1:43 am

Ah, Peter, you see that Berry poem was perfect! And like John after hearing a mention of your previous experience I am glad to learn more and see how skillfully you transformed it. You perhaps have the Phoenix archetype (as I’m told I do) but I sincerely hope this will not take a literal form again for you. You were tested and prevailed. Long may that continue. What a beautiful light-filled building the old one was and the new one too.

John Caddy January 15, 2013 at 1:21 am

Peter, thank you for the details. I’d heard only the bare bones before. An odd but working juxtaposition of condoms and brads. And especially thank you for the Berry poem. Hadn’t seen this one.

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