Guanna Hill was just above the house I grew up in on Gundawanna. It was like the entry post to home, the point at which you knew you were safe at last. It was the highest point on the property so you could not see my home until you had crested it. The road up was rutted and rocky and always seemed to challenge the driver to find the best way they could each time they drove it. It was one mile from the front gate to the top of the Hill and one mile from the homestead where the owner of Gundawanna lived. Near his homestead were three bores that pumped water to two large tanks on the top of Guanna Hill which provided water for the sheep and the house I lived in. Being bore water it was heavy with metals from the ground and we only used it in the house for washing ourselves and our clothes and flushing our toilet. There were tanks attached to the house and surrounding sheds to collect the rain water we used for drinking and cooking. The tap in the kitchen was connected to the house tanks but the pipe ran alongside the one to the bath where the bore water from the top of Guanna Hill was heated by an electric Zip water heater on the wall.
When winter storms roll over open country lightning will always find the easiest path to ground. Trees are one way, and there were many trees on Gundawanna that were split apart by lightning strikes. But by far the quickest way for lightning to come to ground is to hit the highest point and Guanna Hill always seemed to offer that quick path. The top of the hill was more wooded than the lower slopes because the ground was poorer and more exposed. Over time the topsoil had washed down to the valleys below exposing the rocks that gave the nearby town of Molong its name. Between those rocks threaded the beaten paths taken by the lines of sheep as they regularly came to drink at the troughs. The pipes that carried the water to those troughs were buried underground, but not so far that they provided protection from the more severe winter frosts. Many times my Father and I dug up the ground to repair the pipe that had snapped from the pressure of the ice expanding in it on those freezing winter nights.
On this night I was in the lounge room with my Father playing with my Meccano set. We were building cranes and buildings with my Father having more success than I was manipulating the little metal nuts and bolts that secured the metal strips of meccano. My Mother was in the kitchen just finishing off the dishes after our dinner and filling the kettle at the tap for a cup of tea. It had been cold and wet all day and we didn’t really notice the rain drumming on the tin roof. It was a sound of comfort and warmth that I always found pleasurable because hearing it you knew you were dry and warm inside.
I can still remember seeing the light pass between my Father and I as we sat on the floor no more than three feet away from each other. The almighty clap of thunder was almost instant and we both ducked and looked at each other just as we heard the grunt from the kitchen. Dad raced out where Mum was just leaning on the back of the high chair that still stood next to the stove. It was two metres away from the sink where Mum had just released her hold on the tap when the strike hit. It threw her across the room and stunned her but fortunately did nothing else. The chair had also saved her from hitting the wood stove which was heated after the meal and prepared for the kettle.
It was not until the next day when we were running the bath that we found out where the lightning had come out. There was a neat black hole on the side of the water heater about two inches round where it had found its way to the outside. The lightning had struck the hill above our house, travelled down the underground water pipe and burst out of the side of the heater in the bathroom, a journey of at least 400 yards. I always avoid water taps in storms now!