MS PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (17:39:48): I rise to briefly speak on this condolence motion, and I think of all those people for whom tomorrow may well be a very difficult day. As they say, their life will never be the same. But they also mention that this tragic event has brought a deeper resilience and kindness to their communities. Some of them say they are finally on the path to recovery, and for others, that sense of loss is never going to leave them. At the commemoration ceremony on Monday evening we heard Dr Kathy Rowe, who lost her husband in the fires, speak on behalf of many of the bereaved. She said that it is hard to believe that it has been 10 years, but on the other hand it sometimes feels so raw that it feels like yesterday. I have no doubt that thousands of people in those communities are feeling just like that. Another person was quoted as saying, ‘My emotions don’t feel 10 years old’, and I completely understand that. But Kathy, like many of them, spoke about resilience and kindness, and Dr Rowe spoke about the gradual return of the birds and the importance of that recovery, and how that moved her through those emotions. First she heard the magpies and then she heard the other birds coming forward. She said that it was good to reflect at this point on what we have lost but also on the lessons that we have learned, the kindness that we have experienced—and so many of the contributions today have mentioned that—and the heroic and selfless efforts of the volunteers and neighbours during that time. The word ‘resilience’ has continued to echo through this, and I think it is these tragedies and these moments that enable us to recognise the strength of our communities and the kindness of our communities, something that we sometimes do not notice or think about as we go through our day. But I will be thinking tomorrow about the families of those 173 people who lost their lives and about all of those people who lost their homes, their farms—everything. When I thought about that commemoration ceremony, I went to Melbourne Museum’s From the Heart exhibition, and I encourage everyone to go to this exhibition. It really is something quite wonderful. My breath was taken away by one display there, which was nine large yellow ribbons. On one of them the words were simply, ‘I love you, Mum xxoo Glenis’. I do not know Glenis, but that still goes through to my heart. I know that tomorrow we will all remember where we were on that day. I know where I was. I was not anywhere near the fires, but my mind went straight back to January 2003, when I was near a fire—a Canberra bushfire. Bushfire in this circumstance is not the right word. It does not properly describe the catastrophe of these days. In Canberra we called it a firestorm, and I think that is a far more appropriate term. I drove up to the property when I was allowed to. The air was thick with smoke, and you could barely see. We drove through what used to be a forest of mountain ash, and it was just matchsticks as far as I could see. The fire went straight through our property. My two partners in it lost their homes, but they almost lost their lives as well. The thing that struck me at that time was that we had no plan. We did not think about a fire. That has definitely changed. I know those 2009 fires have brought us all to think about our plans—our escape strategies. When the fire came over the mountain range at the back and onto our property, my partners up there decided that actually they had better go. We know that that is when most people die—when they make that last-minute decision to flee and it is too late. We did not have a plan, so the two blokes thought about what they needed to take in that last minute. They did not take the precious photos. They did not take the precious family memories. They took a second-hand washing machine and some Chinese tools they had bought from Bunnings a couple of weeks before. They left everything else, but they nearly lost their lives as they left. The fire was literally licking the back of the truck. The fuel in the truck was vaporising as the fire was getting closer, and so it was stalling and they were having to start it again. As I said, we did not have a plan, and we do now. I think that is one of the positive results out of this tragedy—that we have made plans. We have changed the way we deal with fires. We have changed the way we think about fires. We have changed the way we warn people about fires. We warn people at that most catastrophic moment that it is too late to leave and that they must stay at home and try to defend themselves. We have that warning now. We did not have it in 2009. No matter how you have experienced a bushfire, it has an everlasting impact. Today is that reminder of those missing loved ones. Through rebuilding those communities one brick at a time we are seeing those scars starting to disappear or starting to lessen. Over the Christmas period I went up to the property, and the mountain ash has almost returned. You can barely see the black scars of the fire of 2003. Today my heart goes out to all of those whose scars are still raw. But I am sure that through the kindness and resilience of our communities, particularly our country communities, they will ease.
2009 Black Saturday Bushfires
by Fiona Patten / Wednesday, 06 February 2019 / Published in
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