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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 451

Mr BRIAN MITCHELL (Lyons) (19:22): Today I rise to commemorate the 1967 Black Tuesday fires in Tasmania—the lives lost, the homes wrecked, the livestock killed and the businesses burned to the ground. But this is not just a story of catastrophe; it is also one of resilience and strength, of mateship in adversity, of heroism and of a determination to rebuild.

In the late spring and early summer of 1967, Tasmania experienced wet weather followed by hot, dry conditions that turned the lush, green growth into crisp brown-and-gold kindling. Now, Tasmania's winds are legendary, and on 7 February 50 years ago they ruthlessly drove fires across the state's southern regions, across 110 fire fronts and scorching more than 2,500 kilometres of land. Within five hours, 900 people were injured, 1,400 buildings were destroyed and 64 people were dead.

Tasmania went into lockdown: phone lines were down, with poles on fire and people moved as fast as they could from the fires, including into whatever water they find, whether it was in water tanks, lakes, rivers or the sea. This was an era long before satellite or mobile phones, or the internet. No-one could get through to find out what was going on. The island was cut off from the mainland communications, and even within Tasmania mothers were cut off from kids who were at school when the fires were on. It must have been a terrible time. Roads were blocked by trees and burning foliage, their embers spreading high and fast on the wind and setting more bush and buildings alight. Farmers threw water tanks onto trucks, transforming them into makeshift fire engines. Of the 110 fires, 88 were found to be deliberately lit. Some were ill-thought-out burn-offs, but for others the reasoning is unclear.

My friend and colleague, the member for Franklin, who will speak next, attended the official commemorations in Tasmania yesterday, representing the Leader of the Opposition. The township of Snug is in her electorate, and it was almost totally destroyed by the flames. It has been rebuilt, with plaques to honour the 64 fallen, and it was in Snug where the main commemorations were held.

The member for Franklin told me this morning that for many she spoke to yesterday, Black Tuesday was not 50 years ago; it was yesterday. It is seared that clearly in their minds and memories. Tasmanian Fire Service district Officer Gerald Crawford has been with the Tasmanian Fire Service for 46 years. This is what he told the ABC:

It was very hot, very smoky. The smoke was extremely thick to see from one side of the street to the other you were looking through smoke.

He was 14 years old.

The power was down, telephone lines were down, there were no communications. The only information people were getting was via the radio.

It was a very scary time.

Mr Crawford's story is just one of many that are being retold this week. The Tasmanian media is doing an exceptional job with commemorative features, particularly The Mercury. I thank the media for the sensitivity and the generosity that they have shown in covering this event to date.

Yesterday, Tasmania and Australia stopped to remember Black Tuesday, including in this parliament. Today, I am thankful to be able to use this short time to acknowledge those who were lost, those who were there and those who have enjoyed and rebuilt. Thank you.