Katy's speech at the commemoration service for the 10th anniversary of the 2003 Canberra fires

Bushfire_Commemoration

The overwhelming community response to our bushfires will be the lasting legacy of that time in our cities history.  Drawn together by a desire to help our friends, our neighbours and strangers, to help our community and to help our city heal and rebuild.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher's speech at the

commemoration service for the

10th anniversary of the 2003 Canberra fires

18 January 2013

(Check against delivery)

  • Gai Brotmann MP
  • Simon Corbell, Mick Gentleman, Chris Bourke, Shane Rattenbury, Jeremy Hanson, Guilia Jones
  • Bishop Pat Power
  • ESA Chaplains Reverend Kerry Bartlett & Chris Andersen
  • Jane Smyth
  • Emergency service officials
  • To all gathered here this morning
  • Welcome everyone

 I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land of which we meet, the Ngunnawal people and I pay my respect to their elders past and present.

In our 90th year the worst natural disaster to hit Canberra happened on this day 10 years ago.

In our 100th year we gather this morning on a morning not unlike that of 10 years ago to remember what happened, to reflect on the journey that has occurred since, to support each other and to share our memories of that dreadful day.

And, as we come together to remember those most devastating bushfires 10 years ago, we are all feeling for fellow Australians, particularly in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW to those who are just beginning their recovery from the devastation of fire and to those who even today and protecting themselves and their homes from bush fires that continue to burn and threaten.

These past few weeks have undoubtedly been difficult for many of us – the hot, windy days and round the clock news coverage of bushfires burning across large parts of our country, will have brought back many terrifying memories for some, particularly those residents of Canberra who were directly impacted by the fire of 2003 – in places close to this memorial – Duffy, Holder, Chapman, Rivett, Kambah and in places along our urban fringe in Tuggeranong and Belconnen.

On January 18th 2003 a firestorm like none we had seen before raged through the ACT eventually hitting the suburbs of Canberra that afternoon -  four Canberrans lost their lives, over 400 people were injured, 487 homes were destroyed, businesses were lost, thousands  of animals died and our forests and nature parks were devastated as 70% of the ACT burned.

The loss and grief experienced that day was enormous – of loved ones, of homes, of pets, of precious things.

Today we remember in particular Doug Fraser, Alison Tener, Peter Brooke and Dorothy McGrath, their families and their friends.

All of us have a story about that day. Etched into our memories forever – one of those moments in life when we will always remember what we were doing, how we were feeling, how abnormal, almost surreal the day was – anyone in Canberra on that day will remember.

Many remember the smell in the air, the darkness that descended on our city, the sounds that came with the fire and the silence that followed.

But that same day, whilst we recall easily those frightening memories we also remember the incredible stories of courage, extraordinary acts of kindness and the genuine coming together of a community that cared deeply about each other.

The overwhelming community response to our bushfires will be the lasting legacy of that time in our cities history.  Drawn together by a desire to help our friends, our neighbours and strangers, to help our community and to help our city heal and rebuild.

For some – 10years is a long time from the fires and for others the recovery continues and the memories remain raw.  Everyone has a different way of coping and of learning to live with the loss they suffered that day.

This service seeks to be respectful to all of those who were and remain affected by the events of January 18th 2003.

Ten years on our city has changed. We continue to grow and develop – new suburbs appear around us, rural villages have been re-established, our beloved nature parks have regenerated and the wild life has returned.  Houses have been rebuilt, some quickly and some took longer. Some people have moved, others stayed, new families have moved in and started new chapters in their families lives.

Our response to emergencies has been overhauled – lessons learnt in the harshest possible way.

We have learnt much from the experiences of 2003 and our city is a safer place as a result. We are now better prepared for an emergency than ever before.

Whilst these may seems small steps in isolation – together they symbolise the rebuilding, recovery and renewal of our fire affected city.

If we look just over the way we can see the new forests of The National Arboretum in their infancy.

The Arboretum has literally risen from the ashes and is already growing into a place of extraordinary beauty and a lasting legacy of a decision taken after 2003 – mindful of the opportunity presented by a terrible set of circumstances.

A whole decade has passed and our city has changed – but bush-fires remain very much a part of our landscape and we must be ready for them – today we will sweat through another hot, blustery day with a total fire ban to minimise the risks. But the risk remains. And as we gather we thank those staff and volunteers who work so hard to protect us from this risk every day of the year.

So today, let’s gather and remember. Share stories and memories.

We pay our deepest respect to those who lost so much that day – for lives and families that were changed forever.

But we also give thanks for everything that we have – our strength and resilience as a city, a proud city home to a community that comes together and that will always remember January 18th 2003 as a defining date in Canberra’s ongoing story.