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Thursday, 9 February 2017
Page: 595


Mr GEE (Calare) (11:14): The 1967 Tasmanian bushfires, also referred to as Black Tuesday, were some of the worst bushfire events in that state's history. They were also some of Australia's worst bushfire events on record. On 7 February dozens of blazes across south-east Tasmania developed into a firestorm and within hours a total of 64 people lost their lives. A further 900 were injured. More than 1,400 homes were destroyed, along with 1,700 other structures. A total of 7,000 were left homeless. The destruction included 80 bridges, 5,400 kilometres of fencing, 80,000 head of stock and over 652,000 acres of land scorched. This year we mark 50 years since that disastrous fire. Our thoughts are with the people of Tasmania, particularly those who lost loved ones in that terrible and catastrophic event. It is important that this House pauses to remember them.

Unfortunately, the events of Black Tuesday in Tasmania 50 years ago were not and will not be the last catastrophic fire events in Australia's history. There were the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria and South Australia, which claimed 75 lives and over 2,000 homes, and the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires north of Melbourne in which 173 people lost their lives.

Of course in all of these catastrophic fire events volunteers played a vital and enormous role. Today I would also like to pay tribute to the bravery of our rural firefighters, both paid and volunteer, who in the wake of these events give up their time and put themselves in harm's way to keep our communities safe. It is an issue that is particularly important to our country communities. Some of the service of our country firefighting volunteers stretches over generations. It is that dedication that makes the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales so successful. It is not just the volunteers; it is also their family members because for every person fighting a blaze on the front line you can be sure that there is someone else working behind the scenes supporting those firefighters at headquarters, resupplying them or simply keeping a household functioning while their loved one is out fighting a blaze. If you want to know what the spirit of Australia is all about then look no further than these brave individuals and community volunteers just like them.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all RFS staff and volunteers who worked so hard this January to contain blazes all over central western New South Wales. A grass and scrub fire in the Wuuluman area between Wellington and Mudgee burnt through almost 2,730 hectares of land. Crews worked around the clock to bring that blaze under control, battling temperatures of up to 43 degrees on some days. The RFS deployed aircraft in the Wuuluman fire, providing assistance to firefighters from the air, throughout the day and the night. This was a first for New South Wales.

The Canobolas Rural Fire Service fire control centre based in Orange played an important role in managing the crews in the Wuuluman fire. Today I would like to make particular mention of David Hoadley, the zone manager—he has certainly had a very busy January with one fire or another—Superintendent Brett Bowden; Inspector Steve Smith; Liz Lewis; Nils White; Geoff Selwood; Arthur Sharp; and Roy Ferguson, who is well known in firefighting circles in the central west. Superintendent Lyndon Wieland and Inspector Bob Conran from the Orana zone RFS also did a wonderful job in coordinating the efforts.

Additionally, a large contingent of crews from the Orana, Chifley and Cudgegong RFS districts helped combat the fire. There were crews from all over the central west, including Wuuluman, Spicers Creek, Dripstone, Mount Arthur, Bournewood near Yeovil, Stuart Town, Neurea, Geurie, Euchareena, Bodangora, Comobella, Elong, Maryvale, Curra Creek, Ponto, Cooks Gap, Cooyal, Goolma, Grattai, Gulgong, Hargraves, Lawson, Lue, Moolarben, Mudgee HQ, Mullamuddy, Piambong, Rylstone, Windeyer, Yarrabin, Perthville, O'Connell, Bathurst, Raglan, North West Orange, Newbridge, Blaney, Clifton Grove, Ophir—a brigade close to my own heart; indeed, close to my own house—Springside, Spring Hill and others as well. We are certainly indebted to them all.

Additionally, a bushfire north-west of Bathurst off the Freemantle Road at Gowan almost got away in mid-January. The initial blaze started at 78 hectares, before hot and windy weather tripled the blaze to 217 hectares in a little over an hour. More than 90 firefighters battled the blaze on the ground, supported by water-bombing aircraft and earth moving equipment. The Eglinton RFS were just one of many crews fighting this fire, and I had the opportunity to catch up with some of them during the recent Australia Day celebrations. I would also like to thank them today for their efforts. They included: Mark Bennett, the captain, who runs an engineering company and gave up days of working in that business to help the community put out the blaze, Brett Taylor, Steve Plummer, Tania Willey, Alex Picker, Brian Forde, Peter Patten, Ian England, Greg Ingislie, Nathan Inwood, Kingsley Picker and Morris McMillan.

The Eglinton crew worked around the clock for five days on a split shift roster, and in the days after the fire was contained they continued to clean up spot fires. Only this Monday another fire broke out very close to Bathurst and the Eglinton crew were out there again fighting the fire before it had the chance to impact on nearby homes. These were not the only blazes around the Central West—there was also a fire out near Mandagery that broke out in mid to late January. I dropped in at the Canobolas fire control centre to see how the RFS crews were going. The effort they put into containing that and all of the places around the Central West was extraordinary. They move in fast with earthmoving equipment, they move in quickly from the air, but you cannot do it without crews being there on the ground—brave men and women who put their lives on the line to make sure that our country communities are safe. When I asked them what they were most hoping for, they said they were looking forward to some rain—the rain came the next day and put out what was left of the Mandagery fire, and the Gowan blaze as well.

On this 50th anniversary of the Black Tuesday bushfires in Tasmania, we remember all those who suffered loss in that catastrophic event and we also pay tribute to all the brave men and women who put themselves in harm's way to keep our communities safe.