By Steph McNicol
THE effects of the East Gippsland fires which raged for months devastated not only the nation, but impacted hearts worldwide, including a small school in France.
Through his connection to a Wallan resident by the international Victorian Cross and George Cross Association reunion every two years, Fromelles’ School of Cobbers teacher Pierre Seillier reached out and offered the school’s support to those impacted by the fires.
Mr Seillier regularly teaches his students about the tiny French town’s historic links to Australia, through the countless Australian war graves and tributes to Australian diggers throughout the school.
With Australia an important part of their curriculum, Mr Seillier’s students worked hard to write letters and draw pictures of support for the students of a school which burned down in Gippsland.
He contacted Dianne Pratt and her husband Michael, of Wallan, to find out if they could help deliver the letters and gifts they had made for the students.
“I had no idea how he knew us, but found out it was from the George Cross and Victorian Cross reunion in London,” Ms Pratt said.
“He asked me if I knew what school had been burned down and I didn’t know which one it was, but I found out and told him where it was.”
Clifton Creek Primary School was ravaged by the fires and burned to the ground, affecting all students, teachers and their families in late December last year.
“He told me the children from the Cobbers School wanted to help. He told me the older kids were making pouches for wombats and the younger ones wanted to write messages for the students and draw pictures,” Ms Pratt said.
“Pierre asked me to send the letters down to them and of course we said yes. It took a little while to get in because of the fire damage and it was pouring down that day which meant traffic was at standstill, but we got there.
“We delivered about 40 letters and pictures, some were in French but most were in English. There were about 10 kids there that day and they were lovely.
“We’d just moved and my girls had some books that were still in good condition which I brought down for them too.”
Ms Pratt said she and her husband planned to spend half-an-hour at the school but ended up being with the students for more than two hours.
“They were just lovely kids, and the look on their faces – they were taken aback. A young girl in grade five or six, was reading some of the letters to me,” she said.
“Some of the words we couldn’t work out so we were just having a good laugh about it. Seeing their reactions was great, they were just totally different kids.”
Ms Pratt said she planned on sending a plate with pictures of Australian animals on it to Mr Seillier as a thank-you from Australia.
Clifton Creek Primary School plans to rebuild and students and teachers are currently residing with another school outside of Bairnsdale.