I thank the member for McEwen for this motion, and I’m honoured to speak here today and pay tribute to those who lost their lives, those who were injured and those who lost everything on 7 February 2009—14 years ago last week.
Black Saturday is etched into our memories in Indi. It’s a day we will never forget. We remember the way the smoke burned our eyes and our throats, the extreme heat and the way the wind whipped up the embers and flame and destroyed all in its path. We remember the overwhelming roar, like a jumbo jet. We remember the way the orange sky turned black and the fire that seemed to come at us from all directions. We remember the panic and anguish as we waited to hear word about our loved ones, whether they’d made it out alive. We remember the way we felt joy and relief when there was good news, only to be hit with the devastation when there was the worst news of others.
That day, 173 lives were lost, the majority of which were in Indi. Today, we remember those we lost in Kinglake, Kinglake West, Marysville, Narbethong, Flowerdale, Strath Creek, Toolangi, Mudgegonga and the countless other towns and communities that still bear the scars today. Today we also pay tribute to the brave men and women from our emergency services, who put their lives on the line to protect others and who answered the call to protect their communities—the CFA, the SES and many more volunteers, thousands upon thousands, who rolled up their sleeves to come to the aid of those who had lost everything, and they came day after day. The way the community came together on that day and in the days and years that followed is etched in my memory as well.
Importantly, we should also note that what we are remembering and paying tribute to is not just one day. For those in fire-affected communities, this is not all in the past. Recovery is a marathon, and they’re still running it. The trauma and scars in our community stretch for years and remain just below the surface. One survivor, Bron Sparkes, who lived in Kinglake, told the Age newspaper on the 10th anniversary of the fires, that it’s:
“… less about moving on and more about adapting to that experience and figuring out how to live while carrying that experience with you.
You incorporate the experience into every cell of your mind and body. It’s really how you work with that as you progress through life. Because it’s a part of you and it will always be part of you. And you can’t move on from that.”
For some, working out how to carry that experience with them as they move on through life has been incredibly hard. The mental health aspects, the effects on families, the impact on children who were so small when faced with such terror have been significant. And while Black Saturday was a tragedy, and the years that have followed have been tough, the fires have also left us with a legacy of community, of togetherness, of connection, of resilience. There are many groups and projects that started as a response to the fires but have continued on over the years; they’ve transformed to meet the ongoing and changing needs of their communities. Firefoxes Australia started in Kinglake, in the aftermath of the fire, helping with the immediate recovery and relief, and growing to help the community consider what the new normal would look like after the fires. And now Firefoxes supports women to embrace and realise their dreams.
Foundation Murrindindi began as the Marysville and Triangle Community Foundation to continue the recovery and allocate funds, but now works towards a vision of thriving, vibrant and connected communities within the Murrindindi shire. Neighbourhood Houses, Men’s Sheds still connect with people in our communities post fires, and that’s vital work that’s too often unnoticed.
It’s the connection that’s created and supported by these groups at local, sporting and community events that is the real key to recovering from a disaster like Black Saturday. Because long after the buildings are rebuilt, it’s the community building that really is what government must be funding and supporting for the long term. These are just some examples of the hundreds of groups and initiatives that were forged in the fire but continue to serve and connect our communities now and into the future. I’m proud to pay tribute to them, I thank them, and I remember those from 14 years ago.