Australian native, Larissa Gunderson and her family (husband John and sons Lachlan, 14, and Brentan, 12) were far from home for the recent holiday season. Traveling from the central coast of New South Wales (one hour north of Sydney, Australia), Larissa and her family have been residing at the Selvig House in Harmony for the past few weeks. The Gunderson family arrived in Minnesota 10 days before Christmas and planned to return home Saturday, January 25 due to school starting for the two boys on January 29. With this trip, they have been able to visit their eldest son Haidyn, 18, who has been attending school at Fillmore Central since 2018.
As many know, Australia has been struggling with massive brush fires across many parts of the country. As of January 7, 15.06 million acres were burning or were already burned from the fires. These brush fires destroyed way more area than what the Amazon Rainforest fires damaged (which in total destroyed about two million acres). Just 20 miles from Larissa’s home lies one of the largest fires, which has burned 2.5 million acres. At least 26 people have been killed by the fires, including many volunteer firefighters. In November, students at a school in Larissa’s hometown were not allowed to go outside because of the poor air quality.
Recently, the conditions of the fire have improved because of recent rains. Larissa explained how this is only going to help for a short amount of time. Australia is only half way through their summer season, which means once everything dries from the rains the conditions will return once again.
This is not Larissa’s first time in the states, or even Minnesota. John, her husband, used to work for a school in Minnesota. John worked at that school for 15 years; Larissa lived in Minnesota for the eight of those years before moving back to Australia in 2007. She explained how her family has met many people in this area and how thankful her family has been for being able to stay at the Selvig House (owned by Carol and Ralph Beastrom) during their time here.
With recent storms bringing in lots of snow, the Gundersons enjoyed a white Christmas with John’s parents, Ken and Muriel Gunderson. She talked about how every Australian’s dream is to be able to experience snow at Christmas time, but she is excited to be able to return to the beach back home.
Over 2,000 homes have been destroyed from the fires, you can help those who have lost there homes by donating to the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Appeal and/or NSW Rural Fire Service Brushfire Appeal. Along with the lost homes, many animals have been injured or killed by the fires. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that as many as 1.25 billion animals have been directly (by the fires) or indirectly (by their habitat being destroyed) killed by these massive fires. Australian Wildlife Ark Inc. is taking donations to help the animals who are injured. If able, consider donating to any of these associations; any amount will be greatly appreciated.