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Memorial service to honour the Geelong West Country Fire Authority volunteers who died fighting bushfires at Linton, Kardinia Park, Geelong, Victoria, Saturday, 19 December 1998: address on the occasion.



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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF THE MEMORIAL SERVICE TO HONOUR

THE GEELONG WEST COUNTRY FIRE AUTHORITY VOLUNTEERS WHO

DIED FIGHTING BUSHFIRES AT LINTON

KARDINIA PARK, GEELONG, VICTORIA

SATURDAY, 19 DECEMBER 1998

This is an occasion of profound sadness. We gather to mourn the loss of five brave men - Matthew Armstrong, Stuart Davidson, Christopher Evans, Jason Thomas and Garry Vredeveldt. They died, while life was still young or in its prime, fighting to protect and safeguard the lives and property of others.

But it is also an occasion of great pride as we honour them. The memory of their voluntary service, their courage and their sacrifice will long endure. For they have truly become part of the Australian story.

Fire has a special place in the lives of Australians. It is commonly our friend and companion. It has provided light and protection against the dark and warmth against the cold. But too often it is our most frightening foe. For thousands of years across our ancient land, summer lightning has ignited the tinder dry fuel. And in more recent years, the negligence and sometimes the malice of man has created or intensified the risk of destruction by fire.

Bush fires are with us every summer. The worst of them are burnt into our national memory. South Eastern Tasmania in 1967 ... Ash Wednesday in Victoria and South Australia in 1983 ... New South Wales in 1994. Closer to here in Geelong, we recall the fires which devastated Lara 30 years ago this summer.

And it is not surprising that fighting fire has helped forge, and has become part of, our national character. From early times we leamt that fire cannot be fought on any scale by people acting separately. Our Bush Fire Brigades and bodies such as the CFA here in Victoria were formed to provide the necessary organisation and teamwork. And since those early times, the ethos of the Bush Fire Brigades has exemplified all that is best in our nation: mateship - particularly the extraordinary mateship between members of a Brigade

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- , courage, strength, selflessness and dedication. And sacrifice, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice, when the inevitable danger becomes reality.

And so it was on Wednesday 2 December. The call came. Matthew, Stuart, Christopher, Jason and Garry dropped everything. They piled into the Geelong West tanker and headed off to save Linton from a serious fire. The stage was reached where their work was more or less done. The town was out of danger. And then disaster struck, as unpredictable as the wind. Their selfless and voluntary service in the protection of the lives and property of others against the menace of fire cost them their own lives.

Here in the heart of the community and the City which they loved, we extend to their families our profound sympathy on their immeasurable loss. Our nation mourns with them as they grieve. The names of those whom they have lost and whom we mourn are numbered among those who have made our country great through sacrifice in the service of others.

To the members of the Bush Fire Brigades across our land, and especially to the members of the Geelong West Brigade, I say this. The tragic deaths of your five colleagues lead us as a nation, at the beginning of this summer, to pause and to take stock of the importance and the danger of your work. We thank you for the selfless service you perform and for the courage with which you perform it. And we assure you of our support.

Finally, on behalf of Australians everywhere, I acknowledge the dedication, the unselfishness, the courage and the sacrifice of Matthew, Stuart, Christopher, Jason and Garry in the cause of protecting our country and its people from the destruction and devastation of fire.. We honour their memory.

May they rest with God.