‘Railway house’ fire shocks community

GUNNEDAH man Don McDonagh is lucky to be alive after his iconic house burnt down this week.

The house after the fire this week.

The Chief Havoc Hotel remains standing after the fire.

Don McDonagh with his collection earlier this year. Picture: Northern Daily Leader

Mr McDonagh was in hospital when the fire broke out at his Barber Street home early on Tuesday morning, destroying the house and badly damaging the well-known miniature railway in his yard.

The Gunnedah community has reacted with shock to the fire.

Mr McDonagh’s son, Bill McDonagh, who lives just two doors down, said flames were billowing “30 feet” out of the front windows.

“The heat was unbelievable,” Bill McDonagh said.

“Nothing could have been done. The trains all got melted.”

Bill McDonagh said the first he knew of the fire was when his dog started to bark and run around the house.

“It’s bloody lucky Dad was in hospital,” he said. “He wouldn’t have lived if he was there.”

He said his father had kept war medals and historic documents in steel cabinets which had remained largely undamaged by the fire.

For close to 30 years, Don McDonagh’s elaborate model railway and miniature town have been visited by thousands of children.

The house has now been cordoned off but the railway remains in the front yard. Bill McDonagh said there had been more damage to the railway than they had at first thought.

Gunnedah Mayor Owen Hasler said the family property was a huge loss for not only the family but the town as well.

“It’s a tragedy and no doubt he will be extremely upset and traumatised,” he said of Don McDonagh.

“It’s an obvious attraction in the town, and it would be a great loss if it couldn’t be salvaged or erected in another place.

“It has certainly been, like Don, an iconic feature of our community, and it would be sad to see it not resurrected in some form for our community,” Cr Hasler said.

Investigators and detectives have sifted through the remains of the ferocious blaze and have found no suspicious circumstances.

News of the fire brought a flood of comments on the Namoi Valley Independent’s Facebook site.

Rhonda Delander Eade wrote: “That is so terrible. Poor Don. I hope Gunnedah rallies around to help him.”

Niss Hill wrote: “So sorry to hear of this thinking of you Donny.”

Others, such as Dylan Ison, Susan Reid and Tristan Browne remembered visiting the house as a child.

“Horrible news, Don. Thoughts are with you and any help needed we will be there old mate,” wrote Matthew Hannay.

The famous working model railway was constructed by Mr McDonagh at the suggestion of his wife during Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 1988.

It was originally meant as a “little train around the tree for the grandchild”.

Later, the model included two linked scale model towns with a whole range of houses and stores.

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