The day a principal’s gut instinct saved these kids
Mother-of-three Kate Sutton had just tucked her three girls in bed when the email came through from the principal of their school in Bobin.
In one of the miracles of the bushfire disaster, Diane Myer had a sense of foreboding and her 17 pupils were the first people she thought about.
The Rumba Dump bushfire had been circling the tiny north coast community for weeks and there was nothing to signal things would change but Mrs Myer was acting on her gut instinct. She decided to close the school the next day, Friday November 8, and told the parents to keep their children at home.
The historic 1883 school is the heart of the community and generations have grown up there.
Single mum Ms Sutton, a former pupil and now the school cleaner, moved back to Bobin so her daughters Zoe, 12, Tyler, 10, Jada, nine, could get the same solid education as she had.
"I had been vigilant and the girls had go bags packed but the fire had been in the hills for about two months and we didn't think it would become a big issue," Ms Sutton, 42, said.
"It is lucky we got the message that night. It sent alarm bells off."
She woke the girls and they packed the car, the chickens and the rabbits and hitched up the trailer that night. The next morning, still with no other warning of the apocalypse to come other than Mrs Myer's instinct, Ms Sutton drove to the school to get some water because their tank was empty.
The Subaru wouldn't start again. There was a problem with the ignition and it took five minutes to get it going.
Back home she kept the engine running while the girls piled in. Then on the hill just out of Bobin past the school the trailer got a flat tyre.
It still didn't feel as though danger was looming but it took three hours to change the wheel and the family headed for Wingham just as time was running out.
Less than two hours later the inferno raced through Bobin, destroying homes and the school where the pupils and three teachers would have been at lessons. Only the original 1883 wooden building, now the library, was saved.
The close shave has brought parents and children to tears as Mrs Myer is being hailed a hero.
Ms Sutton lost her rented home and after over two months of staying where they can, the family was last week given a caravan donated through Wingham choir where her dad is a member.
It has been placed behind the village hall which was also unscathed and where a shower and washing machine have been donated and plumbed in by tradies for locals who lost everything but need a wash.
Ms Sutton said it had been tough for her to accept help but the generosity had been overwhelming.
"It has changed me as a person," she said.
"I lived here alone and I suppose I shunned society a bit. I can't sit back and scowl at society any more.
"I feel that somewhere down the track I will be able to give back myself."
The state government has pledged to rebuild the school and demountables are ready for the start of term.
Truck loads of donated food and water have filled the village hall.
Bobin local Sandra Zeikle, 51, whose sons David and Isiah also attended the school, said she was amazed no-one died in the blaze and praised the community spirit that had seen Lions Clubs donate water tanks and bands play at the hall.
"If we hadn't had the community, every single person would still be depressed," she said.