News & Events

Jean and Bernard and starting over

April 15, 2018

Jean and Bernard Pidd do ‘starting over’ better than most. They’ve had lots of practice, starting with the move from England to Tasmania in the early 1960s with five small children in tow.

A couple of years after starting their new life in Hobart, the Pidds, now with six children in tow, lost everything in the 1967 fires, including two treasured cats. Then on 7 February 2009 the Black Saturday fires destroyed the home they had built in Kinglake. Again, they lost two beloved cats in that fire. Their application to move into Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria’s Rushall Park village was fast tracked in 2009 after they were left homeless by the fires.  They came to the village to start over, and they did.

They are a resilient couple, but say there is little choice when you lose everything. You either start again and make the most of it, or you don’t. They have certainly made the most of it, embracing many of the opportunities and friendships at Rushall Park. Bernard is an enthusiastic member of the Merri Singers who gather every Monday; plays carpet bowls regularly and enjoys the company at Friday’s happy hour.


“I remember when I walked into the carpet bowls and the people greeted me and made me feel I had been here all my life,” Bernard said.


Jean, a more private person, found it a little harder. “When we arrived Bernard settled in straight away and got involved in things and meeting people. I was a bit more reluctant, but it was the friendly people here who forced me to be friends. I don’t think I thought I was old enough to be living here, which is a bit funny.” Jean spends hours in the garden and has created a lovely area around their cottage.


The former thespians are both in the village’s music appreciation and play reading groups. They had been part of theatre groups in England and in Tasmania, Bernard started the first U3A play reading group in the 1970s. When they moved to Kinglake in 2002 he started a U3A play reading group at nearby Whittlesea.


Bernard, a former schoolteacher, recently celebrated his 90th birthday and reflected amongst friends on the major events of his life. He and Jean, 88, came to Australia under the Ten Pound Pom scheme and planned to stay for a few years. They bought a home on Mount Wellington, but ran from it on Black Tuesday, 7 February 1967, when a firestorm engulfed the mountain, killing many and destroying hundreds of homes, including theirs.


They rebuilt soon after and remained in Tasmania until 2002. Thoughts of returning to England for anything more than a holiday slowly disappeared.  Jean loved the area and Bernard established a theatrical career alongside his teaching. He read drama on the ABC and ran a weekly music hall at a popular venue, which also involved some of his children.


“We loved Tasmania, but our children are ‘Aussies’ and had all moved to the mainland so we moved over here too in 2002 and built a house on land in Kinglake,” Bernard said.


“The big difference for us in the two bushfires is that in Tasmania I knew where the kids were but I didn’t know where Jean was and that was terrifying. When fires ripped through Kinglake, we were together so we knew where the other one was.”


The Pidds, who have been married for 65 years, have ‘built’ a lovely home in Rushall Park with things given to them after the fire. Nothing could replace the decades of diaries that Jean had written over the years, but she still has the memories of people, places and moments captured in those diaries. Bernard has rebuilt his book collection after losing more than 1000 books in the 2009 fires. He reads for hours every day, starting early in the morning.  And in between reading stories he has songs to sing and plays to hear.


“Our home has always been a place where family and friends are welcome.  Our cottage at Rushall Park is no different and the community of friends here is important to us and that’s why their work is part of my art box,” Jennifer Barden said.

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