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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 114


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (21:37): Three years ago the landscape of McEwen was changed forever, changed by the unstoppable force and fury of the worst bushfire this nation has ever witnessed. On this day, 7 February, in 2009, Black Saturday became a scar on the hearts and minds of the McEwen electorate. One hundred and seventy-three people paid the ultimate price on that day and numerous more have since. No-one was untouched in this disaster: friends, families and neighbours were affected directly and indirectly. As the night wore on and as daylight began to break the following morning, we stood and surveyed the enormity of what had happened: towns, communities, houses and property were gone, reduced to ashes in a landscape totally barren but for the smouldering remains of the fury just past. The following days melded into a blur for many people as the loss of their homes, possessions and precious memories started to sink in.

What followed this disaster was a story that can only belong to Australia, a story of mateship in its truest form. People who had witnessed what had happened, from all over the country, from all points of the land, stepped up and gave their all to help those who had lost everything. Politics were put aside as the nation rallied because our people, our mates, were hurting. Our country stood up to lend a hand. It is ingrained in my mind and the minds of those in my communities that, when our very existence was threatened by nature's fury, amidst the tragedy, loss and senselessness of the day, many heroes arose to stand tall. The tales of personal sacrifice and willingness to pitch in and give a hand will never cease to amaze me. One such story is of a lady in Wandong who came to see me; she had just learnt that she and her family had nothing left, but her husband still had his truck and she wanted to know how they could use that truck, their only possession, to help others. That is the true Aussie spirit of mateship and it makes me continually proud and honoured to represent the seat of McEwen.

Now let us fast-forward to today, three years on after this tragic event. The green has returned; homes and businesses continue to rebuild and to grow. I have witnessed in this new normal how the Black Saturday legacy has bonded our communities and our people together, paving the way for a united future in the area. It has been so encouraging to see thousands of tourists flocking back to Marysville, the Kinglake Ranges, Flowerdale, Strathewen, St Andrews and many other towns, ready to experience the many delights of our region. Small businesses, old and new, are opening, the flora and fauna are thriving and wherever you go people are optimistic and excited by the future prospects for their region.

Just recently I joined the Prime Minister in Flowerdale for a great occasion on which we honoured some of the heroes of Black Saturday with National Emergency Medals. To see over the past three years the regeneration and rebuilding of the area has been quite humbling. The process of healing is well underway and I would like to take this opportunity to again pass on my sincere thanks and gratitude to the volunteers who make our electorate so special. What we have endured has not been easy—in fact it has been a hard slog—but it is a testament to the people of McEwen that we are ready and prepared for the challenges of the future.

Today I received an email which said:

This year, the third since Black Saturday, feels like a turning point—as though we are gaining more forward momentum than before. My community is different—it has changed irrevocably since that day—but not all that change has been bad. This change was inevitable and could not be resisted. Time has allowed us to come to terms with it and to realise that, though it took a severe blow, hope did not die that day. Of course the recovery process has been different for everyone and there are those who still have some way to go. However, the community is showing signs of strength and renewal that will allow it to better support those who are still struggling.

So as I sit in my new house and look around at all the physical change that surrounds me, my emotions ebbing and flowing, I am reminded of all those who extended a helping hand when we most needed it.

Thank you again—your kindness and generosity is not forgotten.

kind regards

Kathy

In conclusion, I would like to say on this, the third anniversary of Black Saturday, that we remember the lives lost and honour their legacy, but now is the time for consolidation as the rebuilding of our communities goes on. We will be back bigger and better than ever before. As Murrindindi Shire Mayor John Walsh recently said:

... let's not define the Shire by the fires, rather, let's look on 2009 as a new beginning, rather than an end.

I agree wholeheartedly.