ACT News


Singed Sisters put out reflective, restorative cookbook nearly 15 years after the January 2003 bushfires

The Singed Sisters were a group of women, mostly in Weston Creek, who lost their homes in the January, 2003 bushfires.

They supported each other through the disaster with food, wine, coffee, laughter and a shoulder to cry on.

Nearly 15 years later, they have created a cookbook which reflects their journey from devastation to celebration, the recipes moving from comfort food in the desolation of those early days, quick food when they were rebuilding and celebratory food as they moved into their new homes.

The cookbook is being launched by Annabel Crabb in Canberra on Saturday. All proceeds from the book will go to the YWCA Canberra.

It is called Tears, Laughter, Champagne: A story of friendship forged through fire and food with recipes from the Singed Sisters.

The cookbook was created through the hard work of all the Singed Sisters including academic Dr Karen Downing who published it through her independent Canberra company Obiter Publishing.


She and her family lost their home in Eucumbene Drive in Duffy in the 2003 firestorm. And the Singed Sisters originally came together through their children.

"We all had children at Orana School at Weston and the school was exemplary in supporting families affected by the fires," Dr Downing said.

"The school brought us together on a number of occasions in a more formal way, offering practical support.

"They we decided we also needed more informal support. So we put a note in the school newsletter and started meeting for coffee.

"All sorts of people initially started meeting. But as the people who'd lost gardens and sheds started to get back on their feet and the people who were re-building started to talk about taps and toilets, the others drifted off and we were left with a core group."

The women are still very much connected 15 years later. They also brought their husbands and partners into the fold, calling them the Burnt Blokes.

"We actually had a dinner and the Burnt Blokes cooked for the Singed Sisters and it was just a wonderful night," Dr Downing said.

"From then on, we'd have two or three dinners a year together."

Food became central to their recovery.

"When people started moving into their new homes they'd celebrate with a lunch or dinner and everyone would bring a plate and the food was always delicious and so good and so well-presented," Dr Downing said.

"We just realised we all loved food and sharing recipes and we started talking about a recipe book and said it often enough that it became a reality."

The recipes are accompanied by stories of the Singed Sisters.

It starts with the desolation and devastation of the fires. The recipes then are all about comfort food. Then as they start rebuilding, the women's recipes turn to quick, easy food they can get on to the table without fuss.

As they move into their new homes, the mood turns celebratory, with recipes to match.

And there is also a commemorative, reflective chapter with recipes that all have a special significance to the individual Singed Sister.

Dr Downing and her husband Ric Drew, who have four children between them, rebuilt in Eucumbene Drive and then moved later to Braddon.

On the day of the fires, January 18, 2003, Dr Downing and her son Jack were at home. The electricity was out and they couldn't get their car out of the garage due to the electric door not working.

"We actually got out in a police car. They police were coming down the road telling everyone to get out," she said.

Almost 15 years after the disaster, emotions can still be stirred by memories of that day. Four people were killed, more than 400 injured and almost 500 homes destroyed.

Dr Downing says the book has reflected the women's journey, which was about moving on from losing a house and possessions.

"One of the points we make in the book is that as huge an event as it was, the fires were just one of those things that happen in a person's life and there are also other things that happen that hurt more, that are more painful and from which you are less able to recover from," she said.

"It's only from this distance from the event, that we can see it is only one part of a whole life."

* Tears, Laughter, Champagne will be available through local retailers and at