Loss of childhood home a body blow

The Paradise Homestead was reduced to ashes and rubble by the fire. Photo Christina McDonald
The Paradise Homestead was reduced to ashes and rubble by the fire. Photo Christina McDonald
''Punched in the gut'' was how Marijke Miller described hearing that the old homestead in which she grew up and contained so many family memories had suffered afreak power surge and was burning to the ground.

The Paradise Homestead, which had undergone a near $1 million restoration to reopen in 2010, was reduced to ashes and rubble after the fire on May 23 but a firewall saved the bedroom wing from total devastation.

Ms Miller was in Invercargill on the day of the fire and first received an email informing her of a 6am lightning strike which caused a surge of electricity in the homestead's power system, resulting in a shock so violent pictures were jolted off walls.

Power to the house was lost and so, too, was the phone line.

But that was manageable.

''You learn pretty quickly that if there's lightning strikes you can't be talking on the phone,'' Ms Miller said.

But later, word came that a fire was ripping throughthe 131-year-old category one Heri tage New Zealand-listed homestead.

The property had been bought by new immigrant Hugh Miller in 1949 and remained in the Miller family until his son, David (Marijke's father), died in 1998 and the Paradise Trust was established to run the property.

''I just felt so helpless,''Ms Miller said.

''I knew that there would be no saving it because of the length of time that it takes to actually get anybody up here and being such an old building.''

Having been brought up along with her sister in the house, been a Paradise Trust trustee, been part of the restoration and knowing her father's wishes for the property, she felt ‘‘physically'' hit for so many reasons.

The fire spared the pink manager's cottage next door to the homestead.

That and the homestead being empty of guests on the night of the fire were two things to be thankful for, she said.

On the morning of the fire, manageress Mandy Groshinski was woken by the lightning strike and after travelling to Glenorchy to contact appropriate people about fixing the power supply, she returned to find the homestead on fire.