Ash Wednesday bushfires: February 16, 1983

On February 16, 1983, a series of bushfires swept across South Australia and Victoria resulting in the loss of 75 lives and the destruction of more than 3,000 buildings.

Residents recall the day was part of a heatwave during a 10-month drought, with very low humidity, temperatures as high as 43C and winds reaching more than 100 kilometres per hour.

Quick facts about Ash Wednesday

When: February 16, 1983

Where: Victoria and South Australia

Number of fires: Around 180, with at least 100 in Victoria alone

Deaths: 75 (South Australia 28, Victoria 47, including 21 at Upper Beaconsfield on the outskirts of Melbourne)

Properties destroyed: More than 3,000

Livestock losses: 340,000 sheep, 18,000 cattle

Damage bill: Around $400 million (Over $1.2 billion in 2015)

(Source: Department of Sustainability and Environment)

The first fire of the day was reported south of Adelaide mid-morning. Within hours, more than 180 fires had broken out across two states.

They would eventually raze 400,000 hectares — an area four times the size of metropolitan Melbourne.

“The whole hills were alight,” remembers Susan Laundy, a resident of Mylor, a small community inland from Adelaide.

“Somebody said it was like Dante’s Inferno; it was like getting a glimpse inside the gates of hell.

“We were up at five o’clock in the morning and you knew something bad was going to happen. There were sirens going then and by 10 o’clock we could not see anywhere around here because of the dust and you couldn’t tell what was dust and what was fires.”

CFS volunteer Russell Grear did most of his work that day in a helicopter, coordinating crew and making observations from the air. He says he was astounded by what he saw.

“There was one fire front that I reckon was 10 kilometres long and there wasn’t a soul to be seen in relation to firefighting or anything else,” he said.

“People had tried to do what they could to save their houses but it was just moving too fast.”

After a wind change, which turned the long fire flank into a massive fire front, the blaze was throwing up so much dust and smoke that Mr Grear and his team were forced to land their chopper in a paddock for two hours while the fire passed.


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John Morgan’s Blacksmith and Reeves Garage

Established in the mid-l800’s, John Morgan set up a smithy, wheelwright, and carpenters shop on the corner of Tatachilla Road and Main Road McLaren Vale.  Later taken over by John George Reeves one of Morgan’s employees who married one of his daughters, Louisa Mary, in 1883.

Morgan’s Blacksmith

In the 1920s the blacksmith business became Reeves Garage, operated by John’s son Percy, and operated for many years until approximately the 1990s.

Today the building houses an auto repair shop, auto parts store and heating and cooling business.

Reeve’s Garage (c. 1938)


Saddlery shop of John Ferris

John Ferris arrived with his family in 1877 from Devon aged about 14 years. His parents, Richard and Susan, settled in Noarlunga. He saw the need for a saddlery in the McLaren Vale region and set up business there from circa late 1880s. Initially he was located in the Western wing of Mrs Jarrad’s Store at 13 Mudge Street until he relocated to Main Road (cnr. Mudge Street) He leased a room on the premises to the Bank of Adelaide until a new building was erected. The building is currently  used as a pizza bakery.


Saddlery shop of John Ferris


Saddlery shop of John Ferris

Saddlery shop of John Ferris, and Bank of Adelaide, Main Road, McLaren Vale, circa 1890. 


Saddlery shop of John Ferris - Pik a Pie Bakery

Mrs Jarrad’s Store

Mrs Jarrad's Store
13 Mudge Street, McLaren Vale (2007)

In 1851, Nicholas Browning subdivided Section 157 to form the village of Gloucester. Only a few houses survived from the first decades of development at Gloucester, and the House at 13 Mudge Street McLaren Vale is  one of them.

Mrs Jarrad’s Store was situated in the eastern wing of the 3 sided house. Here she established a haberdashery shop with a millinery room out the back.  The centre wing was her house and the western wing the John Ferris Saddlery until her relocated to Main Road.  Mrs Jarrad’s Store later became the Chillingworth Store and when that closed became the home of the Mudge family who the street is named after today.

Tsong Gyiaou

Tsong Gyiaou (Song Jow) was Built in 1862  for Mary Ann Aldersey 艾迪綏 (24 June 1797 – 1868), the first Christian missionary woman to serve in China. She founded a school for girls in NingboZhejiang. Her pioneering the field of mission work for single women in China was the most remarkable outcome of her life.

Tsong Gyiaou
Tsong Gyiaou School, McLaren Vale c. 1886












Aldersey was a native of London from a wealthy nonconformist family. She studied Chinese in London and in 1837 she herself was able to go to Surabaya (Indonesia), where she started a school for Chinese girls. When the treaty ports in China were opened (1843) she moved to Ningbo where she opened a school for girls assisted by three teenagers

In 1861 Aldersey handed her school over to the Church Missionary Society and retired to in McLaren Vale.

Tsong Gyiaou was named after San Ch’iao, a village where she had conducted a school. Originally a smaller building existed on the property named Tsong Gyiaou Lodge, which was where the first school was conducted.

Tsong Gyiaou
Students at Tsong Gyiaou School c. 1890.

Known locally as Miss “China Lady” Aldersey, she was well known for her kindness and generosity. She bequeathed the school to her nieces, Mary Ann and Eliza Aldersey, who made it into a boarding school for young ladies in 1868.

A fire in 1899 destroyed much of the building and contents, with very little saved and only the shell remaining. Miss Aldersey’s journals were lost. The school reopened in 1900.

The home of Katherine Hall in 1947, she desired to leave the property to the hospital committee on her death. The McLaren Vale Districts War Memorial Hospital was opened in 1951, with Tsong Gyiaou utilised as the nurse’s home.

Mary Ann Aldersey is buried in the Mclaren Vale Congregational Cemetery.

Tsong Gyiaou
Tsong Gyiaou c. 2000’s

Tsong Gyiaou – Sources

Mary Ann Aldersey (2016) in Wikipedia. Available at: (Accessed: 21 December 2016).
Nesdale, Iris (1980).  The third bridge, Tsong Gyiaou, McLaren Vale. Investigator Press, Hawthorndene, S. Aust
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