COLIN Schirmer was having a quiet beer with a couple of mates when the sky turned nasty.
That was one year ago today and what was about to hit was a freak tornado, packing winds of 300km/h.
But at the time, Colin had no clue as to what was coming.
The Lockhart retiree yesterday recalled the terrifying night from his camp site at Lake Mulwala, where he spends two to three months every year.
“I went to Vietnam mate, but that 10 minutes frightened me more than 12 months in the war,” he said.
“It happened that quick and we could see the clouds coming in.
“The clouds started rumbling into each other and flowing backwards.”
A few drops of rain made up Mr Schirmer’s mind.
He got up and headed back to his caravan to wait out the storm.
“I said ‘I think it’s going to bloody rain’,” he said.
His Lockhart mate Alan King thought likewise.
They were under the awning of Mr King’s caravan at Kyffins Reserve, so he didn’t have far to go for shelter.
Mr Schirmer got a few metres from his own van when the wind hit, harder than he could believe.
He decided to ride out the tornado lying on the caravan floor.
“The trees started coming down and there were vans being flipped over everywhere mate,” he said.
“I thought I was the next one, that’s for sure.”
The only damage was the ripping off of a zipper on his annexe, which was picked up by the wind and blown away.
Mr Schirmer reckoned the A-shape of his van might have saved him.
“The wind just blew over the top of me.”
When he stepped outside, he got “the biggest shock of his life”.
The pair and another mate, from Leeton, then went to check — by torchlight — on the welfare of other people in the reserve.
“I went around and turned off all the gas cylinders because some people were cooking tea,” Mr Schirmer said.
The widespread destruction meant it took emergency services about three hours to get into the reserve.
Mr Schirmer said the next day they were told they had to get out fairly soon, so they loaded up their boat but had to leave the vans behind for about a week.
While the area was opened again at the end of November, he did not return until the new year.
They each spend two to three months a year at Lake Mulwala.
Mr Schirmer said because the reserve was still fenced off there was only a small area in which they could now set up their vans.
“It’s such a good spot, it’s terrific,” Mr Schirmer said.
The peace and quiet is what keeps drawing Mr King back to Lake Mulwala.