10th Anniversary of Black Saturday bushfires (2009)

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:09:34): I am honoured to stand here today and make a few comments in relation to the 10th anniversary of the 2009 bushfires, and I commend the government for bringing such a sensitively worded motion to the house. I think it has resonated with all of us here today, and The Nationals will be wholeheartedly supporting this motion. In my short contribution I would like to focus on the present, the past and the future. In recent times we have had a fairly severe current fire season, and we have seen in the Eastern Victoria Region fires in Rosedale in early January, in Timbarra up in the hills, Moondarra, Heyfield, Aberfeldy, the Thomson area and Walhalla—thankfully that town was saved largely—and in Grantville on the nature reserve there. I would like to acknowledge the immense contribution that our Victorian emergency service personnel make at the current time: the CFA both career and volunteer, the SES, Victoria Police, ambulance paramedics, all sorts of professional agencies, community organisations, charities and our volunteers and individuals. I visited Grantville recently, and there is nothing that brings the stark reality of fire home more than seeing volunteers come off the fireground. This was a reasonably well controlled event that the CFA was getting on top of, but folks—ladies and gentlemen—were coming off with streaks of ash on their faces, ready to cool down and have some nourishment and then go back out on the fireground. I also want to pay homage and tribute to the foresters—the harvesters and contractors—for using their expertise and equipment to make containment lines. Certainly in relation to the past, this is the 10th anniversary of this event that changed our world in Victoria and was recognised across the world. In eastern Victoria there were very significant fires, and the Delburn complex fires brought home to me the depth of the pain there. The towns of Mirboo North, Woollahra, Yinnar and Churchill were severely affected. I will not go into the fine-grain detail, but it hit home, and it hit home in no greater detail than when I, as a teacher at Mirboo North High School, went back into the school on Friday, 6 February 2009, and went into the beautiful little auditorium that looked out toward the east to Darlimurla and Boolarra and saw big reams of smoke emanating from that area and leaf litter and debris falling on the school and heard the cries of our people in that auditorium just bereft about what they were facing. I also want to acknowledge the strength of the CFA, the then Department of Natural Resources and Environment, the SES and the like who were there. What I also feel in regard to that is that we had students starting at our school all fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed at the start of that term and then the following week they had lost their homes, they had lost everything—photos, everything that they owned—and they came back to school in borrowed uniforms and with borrowed lunchboxes. I want to pay tribute to the amazing counselling services that we experienced I am sure right across the state and those people that sat down with people affected and communicated with them strongly. Right across Eastern Victoria Region Churchill, Cornella, Callignee, Traralgon South, Hazelwood South were severely affected, and I could go on and on. One thing that came home to me in relation to Ms Lovell’s speech—and it coincidentally was the same family, a family that I hold dear—was that this family was affected with loss of life in the fires. What happens with families is that we are a tree and, if one limb is ripped away very tragically and without a chance to say goodbye, the other members of that family have to grow and reshape that tree in order to embrace, nurture and survive. In truth the other members and the new branches form in a different way, and I think all of those 173 families would have had to regrow in a different capacity. I just marvel at how aunties became parents to nieces and nephews and the like. One other point that I would like to raise is that there is a lot of symbolism now. People draw hope and strength from symbolism, and indeed symbolic monuments have been constructed right across our state in relation to this event. There is a powerful one of a phoenix rising. It is a sculpture that is at the entrance of the Traralgon South CFA and it was erected by the brigade themselves. The phoenix rising recognises those who perished and those who came to support the community. The plaque on the sculpture says, ‘Those who can must. Thank you to those that did’. I too attended the state commemoration on Monday evening. It was a very solemn, well-weighted and meaningful event. I want to raise one point out of that, and that is the Firestick project. I commend the government for flagging it as a wonderful way of communicating the Indigenous people’s attachment to the land, their understanding of the land and also Uncle David Wandin, a Wurundjeri leader, and what he has contributed in this space at Dixons Creek Primary School. This is a request or a challenge, but I really think the government would want to look at this. The Firestick project needs to be not just symbolism and communication and education, which is important in our schools, but it needs to be a practice that is adopted across the state. Cool Indigenous firestick burns can regenerate our bush, can create diversity in our bush, can create culture in our Indigenous people and a rebirth of the culture that their ancestors and their ancestors in turn experienced, and they can also mitigate and improve our fire preparedness. I think this is a very worthwhile project. Finally, thank you for your indulgence, President. Mr David Tree is well-known to people by his image if not by his name. He is a Mirboo North resident and CFA volunteer. He was the gentleman in the photo that went around the world in relation to the compassionate gesture of a CFA firefighter providing water to a very thirsty koala. He has asked me to read this into Hansard for our Victorian Parliament and members of the wider community: To each member of the Victorian parliament—10 years ago our most beautiful part of the world & the wonderful folk who live here had an unjustified event occur. Our landscape scared, families displaced, loved ones lost, everything changed. No matter where you look, no matter how you look at it, we have no way of undoing what was done. This event changed ALL our lives in one way or another. Nevertheless, it is how we respond as a caring community that makes all the difference. We should refuse to be hurt by any indelible misguided comments of the day. What we need to do is act & behave in accordance with what matters most. Under NO circumstances should we ever stop giving serious attention to those who still need our love, devotion, respect & support, whether they were affected, directly or in directly, this incident touched us ALL. Individuals have a role & responsibility to play in their communities. We must continue to love care & support each other, healing is an ongoing process; we must be mindful of the needs of others and open to providing selfless service & do so without being asked, to protect that which matters to us most—be it human or otherwise. In his last comment, in true form, David said: Love is like a parachute, it works better when its open.