Sitting down to a quiet evening in front of the television, Ethel had no idea that she was about to lose everything she owned. 

It started out as an ordinary night in suburban Sydney in the home where Ethel has resided with her family for nearly five decades. Ethel’s daughter Bunty had begun preparing their evening meal, placing some oil to heat up on the stovetop when the phone rang. A momentary distraction was all it took for disaster to strike.

“I didn’t realise she had put anything on the stove, I was sitting a few feet away from the kitchen, watching television, facing the other way and I heard the whoosh as it caught alight,” explains Ethel.

“I’m amazed how quickly it all happened, the black smoke was coming down from the ceiling, we had to duck our heads to go through the front door.”

Fortunately, that fateful day had been a hot one and the front door had been left open to cool the house, allowing the family cat to race out of the house to safety.

“I had bare feet, I had just what I’d had on sitting there watching television and that’s what we were left with. Nothing,” Ethel says.

The flames were too severe for Ethel and Bunty to remain near the house, so they retreated up the street to safety. The fire department arrived on the scene promptly and assessed that Ethel’s home couldn’t be saved. Instead they were forced to concentrate their efforts on the houses on either side and were able to save them from the flames.

“I was very sad, my husband and I built the house 50 odd years ago. We were married in 1958 and bought the land and built the house the next year.My daughter was pretty devastated because everything was gone. My handbag, my wallet, everything was in the house. I take medication, I didn’t have my pills, I didn’t have my prescriptions, I didn’t have any money, I didn’t have any shoes. Until it happens to you, you don’t realise how much you depend on,” she says.

Ethel’s only consolation upon returning to her ruined home the next day, was finding her beloved cat hiding in the backyard.

With no roof over their heads and no belongings, they relocated to Ethel’s other daughter’s home in Northern Sydney. Although being grateful for somewhere to stay, Ethel found it difficult to navigate the many stairs in her daughter’s home and eventually she suffered a fall which required her to relocate to a rental property. 

Within the first few days of the fire, Vinnies had reached out to Ethel to offer assistance.

“I don’t know who contacted Vinnies for us, but they tracked me down at my daughter’s place and brought along a couple of bags of food, like bread and breakfast cereals and that was a help. The local Vinnies member explained that when I was ready, I could ring the Society and they would help me with furniture for the place we were renting. And they were marvellous, really good. Without Vinnies in that first couple of weeks,
we wouldn’t have had anything,” she says.

Your donation ensures that Vinnies can give a hand up to women like Ethel, whose lives have been destroyed overnight.

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