Today I had to give a talk to the grade 1 and 2 classes at my children's primary school. They've been studying local history, and as the only mother who was enrolled there when the biggest thing that happened in the school's history occurred, I was asked to help out.

This is what I told the children.

One night, when I was in prep – I was six years old then – my family woke up.

There were fire engines in our street and their sirens were very loud.  We all wondered what was happening, and hoped no one was hurt anywhere.

In the morning, after my dad went to work, my mum and I walked down to the school… and it wasn’t the way it used to be at all.

There was still smoke in the air, and the ground was covered with ashes, and pieces of books, and rulers that were half burned away. There were burnt hats. There were burnt chairs. There was even someone’s teddy bear.

The classrooms, where the new school is now, were a dreadful mess.

I looked up (although I don’t know if that was because I was small or because what I was looking at was up high) and saw the library. I saw a beanbag, burnt, hanging half-way out of a window. It had burst open and melted polystyrene beads were stuck to it, and to the wall, and to the ground underneath it.

A lot of other people were there too. Some were talking quietly, and some were crying softly, but most people were just walking around, looking, picking things up out of the mess all over the ground and putting them down again.

No one could believe what had happened.

We found out later that a man who had an illness in his mind had lit the fire on purpose. He didn’t want to make people sad. He didn’t want to destroy things.

It was just because he liked to see things burn up, and because he wanted people to see him help the firemen.

I hope that he was able to get better so he didn’t make anyone else as unhappy as he made all the people at Ruskin Park.

No one went to school at Ruskin for a long while.

Some children went to other schools by bus every day. The bus picked them up at the school gates and brought them home at the end of the day.

Portable classrooms were set up on the oval, from where the equipment is now to about half way across. The portables were different from the classrooms which had been burnt. They had carpets, and their outsides were made of metal. If one friend stood outside at one end of a portable with their ear against the wall, and another friend stood at the other and tapped the wall with a tiny stone, it made the most amazing sound – a bit like the blasters in Star Wars.

Quite soon, the new buildings were started. They were very different from the way the school used to look – the whole school had the same pebbly outside then as the old building does now – but it didn’t take us long to get used to it.

Do you know why Ruskin Park’s Symbol is the Phoenix?

The Phoenix is a magical bird in a story. It gets burned up in a fire… and when the fire goes out, there, in the middle of the ashes, is a new baby phoenix.

Ruskin Park is like that.

Even though it burned away in a terrible fire, it was able to start again as a bright, clean, friendly school.

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