A beautiful symbol of humanity and community spirit in the thick of the summer’s bushfire crisis went on display at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) last week. Many Canberrans heard of the Hooper family’s iconic firies’ fridge that was stocked with cold drinks beside the road in Bungendore for thirsty firefighters battling blazes in the region.
That story did the rounds through both social and traditional media channels across the world.
It just was one of the many heart-warming, community-driven stories reported on over the summer, a display of the Australian spirit in the face of crisis, offering respite from the devastation.
The fridge was placed on the verge of Bungendore’s main road by Scott and Claire Hooper, in December 2019 while the fires near Braidwood were burning at their peak.
Later that day, two RFS volunteers got two icy poles out of the fridge, went back to their truck, and took a selfie, which one of the men sent to his wife, who then posted it to the Bungendore community page on Facebook.
Within a few days, members of the community were stopping by to fill it up with soft drinks, snacks, water and more. It then escalated to the point where this story received international attention.
Curator at the NMA, Craig Middleton, says he was delighted when he received an email from Bungendore RFS Deputy Captain Richard Thorek about the fridge out of the blue a few weeks ago.
“Once a lot of the fires were being controlled and extinguished even, there were far fewer trucks passing by the fridge.
“Two weeks ago, this, in combination with the quite heavy rainfall over recent weeks, meant (the Hoopers) were going to take the fridge off the road because they didn’t want it to get damaged.”
Initially, the Hoopers offered to donate the fridge to the Bungendore RFS.
“They said ‘look yes, we’d love to take the supplies, but don’t you think keeping this in the back of our shed is a bit of a waste’.
“(Thorek) sent us an email offering the fridge to us, and of course we were interested and really excited about it,” Middleton says.
From there, Middleton reached out to the fridge’s owners, the Hoopers, meeting with them and hearing their story.
“With such an important object, at this crucial moment in this season there was no other option but to move forward at the pace we did to get this object to the Museum.”
It culminated in a convoy of around 32 or 33 RFS trucks driving from Bungendore to the Museum to deliver the fridge on Friday 21 February. There were hundreds of emergency service workers and volunteers in attendance, with the powerful gathering acting as an opportunity for the community to touch base and support one another.
“There was lots of hugs, and comments like ‘the last time I saw you the flames were 30 metres high’ – it was a very powerful event.”
Middleton says this fridge represents a significant symbol of the Australian spirit in the face of crisis.
“This is more than just a fridge, more than just a story of supplying the RFS with donations, really about community rallying together. Unknown to the Hoopers, this bigger sense of community built itself around their act.
“A lot of people in a really anxious time just wanted to do something, and this was a really modest little offering,” Middleton says.
The Bungendore firies’ fridge is now on display in the Museum’s atrium, where it will be for at least the five weeks.