Black Sunday, January 2nd 1955 was the day when Marble Hills’ long eventful life came to a dramatic end. Governor Sir Robert George and Lady Elizabeth George were in residence. The day started off with a temperature of about 32 degrees celcius and searing high Northerly winds. Later that morning there was even a dust storm.

Soon after 9:30am, Sir Robert George went to see the caretaker (Mr. Penny) in the caretakers’ cottage. He asked him to get the cars ready in front of the house and attach garden hoses around the house. Sir Robert knew that Marble Hill had been threatened by bushfires many times before and did not want to take any chances. When Sir Robert returned to the house he heard on the radio that bushfires had reached Tea Tree Gully and there was a large fire in the Stirling area. There were appeals for volunteer fire fighters to help battle the blazes around Adelaide but unfortunately none came to Marble Hill.

The day went on as normal; the maids put bread in the oven and served lunch, then got on with their usual duties. Shortly after lunch Lady Elizabeth George spotted fire and thick smoke at the bottom of the hill which Marble Hill stands on. She ran down stairs and told the Governor. He got everyone together and they all assembled in the Governors Private Study at the front of the residence. The house began rapidly filling with smoke. The Governor sent a servant up the tower to see if he could spot anything while he and the rest of the men stood at the ready on the verandah with garden hoses and buckets of water. The women ran around the house closing all the curtains and shutters. The house was still filling with smoke.

By 2pm fire completely surrounded Marble Hill. The servant who had been sent up the tower noticed thick black smoke billowing out of a roof access door. He opened it and was confronted with a sheet of flames. The dried seaweed which was used as insulation had caught fire after a burning pine tree in close proximity was blown against the wall of the house, sending flames into the attic so the entire roof space was alight. The servant ran down the stairs and told everyone they had to evacuate immediately.

Everyone gathered up blankets and towels, soaked them in water and placed them over their heads before running out of the burning house. They got to the cars by the front door and realized that the cars had been smothered in molten lead which had melted off the tower roof. They were literally stranded. At that very moment the top of the tower caved in sending glass and debris flying. The group of people including the Governor and his wife ran to a retaining wall beside the driveway and huddled together under the wet blankets and watched the roof and second storey cave in.

The bushfire passed over their heads and moved on. The house kept burning for hours more. The groups were saved by another group of people from the nearby towns of Cherryville and Norton Summit. By miracle, the servants pet cat also escaped the fire. They drove them back to Government House in the city where they were treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation by a doctor. The group felt concern for the kitchen cat Tommy and Torquil Georges pet Joey, Chicco. Mr. Penny was requested to make a search for the animals. So that night, Mr. Penny returned to the house, now a smoldering mess, and found Tommy, the Kitchen cat crouched in a cellar window, his hair badly singed and his paws burnt. But after a visit to the vet and many baths and good food, Tommy’s health was restored and he lived for a further 5 years. Mr. Penny also found Chicco who unfortunately had been locked in the shed that morning, and was unable to escape the flames.

Firemen went up to Marble Hill after the fire, and using a salvaged fly wire window screen, searched through the rubble in the drawing room below Lady Georges second storey bedroom for her jewellery which had all been left behind when Marble Hill was abandoned. Sir Robert George and Lady George lost nearly all of their possessions to the hungry flames. These had been moved to Marble Hill for the summer while Government house was being renovated.

About a week after the fire, the Government sent a demolition crew up to Marble Hill to destroy the now ‘unsafe’ structure. A chain was slung around the billiard room chimney and wall and attached to 2 huge bulldozers. The bulldozers revved and revved but the wall would not come down. The men tried removing the keystone above the main doorway to weaken the tower and thus destroy it. But it would not budge. The men then knocked down Lady George’s bedroom wall and the lovely 5 sided bay window.

 ABOVE PHOTOS (from left to right)

Marble Hill aerial photo taken after fire  -  Marble Hill entrance after fire  -  Marble Hill balcony and verandah after fire  -  Marble Hill balcony and verandah after fire

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