A shining beacon marking an eternal connection between Australia and Greece survived the bushfires that swept across the Margaret River district of WA last month.
But with flames racing past the St. John the Theologian chapel in Prevelly, 280 kms south of Perth, it was a close run thing.
Despite the destruction of its sign and the flames lapping at the church walls, the chapel, built by ANZAC veteran Geoffrey Edwards in the late 1970s as a memorial to the sacrifice of Greeks and Australians in Crete during WWII, resisted the flames.
Theo Mathews, who has been the custodian of the chapel since the 1980s, told Neos Kosmos that the church’s sturdy construction, based on similar ancient chapels that dot rural Greece, was its saviour.
“When the wind changed, fire was rushing down the coast and it raced past, either side of the chapel,” said Mr Mathews.
“With its stone walls, clipped eaves and no windows, it’s the perfect example of how to protect yourself from a fire stoked by 55km winds.”
“It’s a pristine white glistening gem in this grey black sea of burnt earth and twigs, it’s wonderful.”
The November 23-24 blaze which engulfed Prevelly and destroyed more than 40 properties, erupted when a prescribed burn by WA’s Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) rapidly got out of control.
An inquiry led by former federal police commissioner Mick Keelty has begun into the bushfires to investigate the cause and handling of the fire.
The investigation will not examine the merits of DEC’s prescribed burning policy, but will look only at the practice as it occurred on the day of the fire.
A second bushfire, sparked by another prescribed burn swept through 50,000 hectares in the nearby Nannup-August region in the week following the Margaret River blaze.
Following the fires, WA Premier Colin Barnett sacked his Emergency Services minister, Rob Johnson, and appointed Mr Keelty to report back by the end of January 2012 on the causes of the fire and whether DEC had followed correct operating procedures.