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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 268


Mr CONNOLLY (9.38 a.m.) —I move:

  That this House:

(1)expresses it sadness at the loss of human life and damage to fauna and property caused by the recent NSW bushfires; and

(2) commends the efforts and sacrifices of regular and volunteer firefighters from New South Wales and interstate in quelling those fires.

From time immemorial, fire has been an important part of the Australian ecosystem. In fact, it is even recorded in the reports of Captain Arthur Phillip when he arrived at Sydney Cove. He was impressed at the pall of smoke that he saw drifting over Botany Bay and Port Jackson during January 1788.

  Virtually all the citizens of New South Wales and Australia, as well as people around the world, for the first 15 days of this year watched hourly on their television sets and heard on radios the human and ecological tragedy of the fires that occurred along the coastal fringe of New South Wales. At their height there were some 200 fires being fought by thousands of volunteers and professional firemen, who came not just from Sydney and the metropolitan area, not just from volunteer fire brigades across New South Wales, but from every state and territory of the Commonwealth. Undoubtedly, that was one of the most significant aspects of what was otherwise a very critical situation. We saw at a time of need the Australian people and the state and territory governments come together to give of their best in what, in my experience, has been a unique effort.

  I recall distinctly, travelling in a police car through a fire in the Lane Cove National Park, the feeling of utter joy—I can describe it in no lesser terms—at seeing a convoy of white South Australian fire trucks going past with unit names—such as Mount Barker and other places—on their sides; carrying the men and the women volunteers with their yellow hats bravely facing what was to come. They had travelled all night from South Australia to be with us in the metropolitan areas of Sydney under threat and on the central coast of New South Wales.

  As I have said, there were volunteers from across the continent. The fire buckets provided by New Zealand and flown in by the New Zealand Air Force were of critical importance in enabling both the RAAF and civilian pilots to water bomb in very critical situations.

  It is appropriate on this occasion to draw special attention to the very sad human cost of those fires. We lost five people in New South Wales directly as a result of the fires; four in that first 15 days and the fifth only last weekend. I would like to place on the record the name of Mr Norman Anthes, 45, of Lithgow, who served as a volunteer for more than 20 years and was burnt to death when a tree he was felling bounced after hitting the ground. The Mount Horrible fire is believed to have been caused by a lightning strike in the Winburndale Nature Reserve. He gave of his best. He spent a lot of his time working for the bushfire brigade. He took great pride in his membership and his death has had a devastating effect on his fellow fighters and the community. He was a self-employed builder and is survived by his de facto wife, Glenda Hollaway, who is six months pregnant, their one-year-old son, Stuart, and two sons from a previous marriage, Corey, 22, and Scott, 21.

  Mr Robert Page, aged 53, of Bundanoon, died during the mopping-up operations after a fire in the Double Duke State Forest near Grafton which was deliberately lit. Mr John Roach, 74, of Glendale near Newcastle, suffered a heart attack brought on by smoke inhalation while he was trying to build a firebreak to protect a friend's home. Perhaps one of the saddest cases in relation to Sydney was the death of Patricia O'Neil. She died trying to protect her de facto's children. She was 42 years of age. She died of asphyxiation, although the police will be conducting further investigations into her death. Finally, last weekend we had the case of Clinton Westward. At the age of 17 he had been a volunteer with the Pheasants Nest bushfire service for some 12 months. He had fought in the recent fires at Katoomba in the Blue Mountains alongside his father, and also battled fires at Belrose in my electorate in early January. Clinton was part of a team called to a grassfire on the F5 freeway near Pheasants Nest south of Camden. He was in a tanker which was travelling about one kilometre from its base when it overturned, throwing Clinton from the vehicle, and he was killed. Four other members of the team were injured. Clinton would have started year 12 at school this year, but now he is dead.

  When we compare the fires in New South Wales with the conflagrations of Ash Wednesday some years ago in South Australia and also Victoria, in human terms the cost was obviously less. In terms of lost property, certainly the cost was less. It was estimated by the insurance industry that the total insured loss was somewhere in the range of $60 million, but estimates are still being made. But that in no sense reduces the enormous human participation and the enormous costs to those hundreds and hundreds of families which were evacuated from their homes and for all the others who had their sons, daughters or their fathers and mothers as volunteers out there fighting those fires morning, noon and night while their relatives waited at home wondering what was to become of them.

  In terms of economic effort, it was an enormous exercise as well. The emergency services used 43 light helicopters, six planes and one jet reconnaissance aircraft to water bomb the worst affected areas around the state. There were over 8,000 volunteer bushfire fighters from the New South Wales bushfire service, 800 from the New South Wales urban fire brigade and 1,500 from interstate, as well as military firefighters, who were in action throughout that entire period. And we must not forget the substantial contribution in a technical sense made by New Zealand.

  While only five people died in last month's fires, several hundred people were injured, and 185 houses were actually destroyed. I have moved this motion because my electorate is surrounded by bush: regrettably, over the years it has probably had more than its fair share of fires. Some of the most dramatic fires in the metropolitan area of Sydney worked their way from Turramurra right through to Lane Cove, down the Lane Cove River valley. That was only part of the problem; the other problem was across in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and the national parks over towards the Hawkesbury River. Those fires burnt right through, to the coast at Broken Bay, and that was where most of the damage in the metropolitan area was done—as well as, of course, in the Menai area and the southern suburbs of Sydney.

  In the Warringah Shire, fires broke out in the Cottage Creek area on Friday, 7 January. They were under control by 6.00 p.m. on Thursday, 13 January, and the state of emergency was revoked. I should point out, however, that the first of those fires was started on New Year's Eve by people firing flares into the bush from boats on Broken Bay. That fire was put out but, subsequently, another fire started. The sad thing about most of these fires in January is that it appears—and I say this subject to the final determination of the coroner—that most of them were deliberately lit. The one in Turramurra was lit by a schoolboy and his mates, and they were caught.

  I find it utterly inexplicable that people can deliberately create such mayhem, both in environmental terms and in human terms, simply to get a kick out of hearing the sirens of the fire brigades going by. Perhaps the sickest part of all is that some of those people subsequently are out there as `volunteers'—doing their bit to put out the fire which they started in the first place. Those people require the services of a psychologist, one of which I am not.

  The firefighters in Warringah Shire were drawn, in the local area, from bush fire brigades and the New South Wales Fire Brigade. From interstate, they came mainly from South Australia, and police and emergency services personnel were involved. We lost some 11,000 hectares or 110 square kilometres of land, and 29 houses were burnt; 130 houses were partly damaged; and two bridges were lost. Fortunately, there were no significant injuries sustained, nor loss of life. At this stage we do not know the totality of the property damage.

  In Ku-ring-gai on the Turramurra side 580 hectares, mainly in the Lane Cove River valley, were burnt. A further 231 hectares were lost around the Ku-ring-gai wildflower gardens at St Ives. Property damage amounted to 13 houses destroyed in Ku-ring-gai and 22 houses damaged to various degrees. Assistance came from the Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai bush fire brigades, the New South Wales Fire Brigade and, from time to time as required, from firefighters from the ACT and the Country Fire Service of Victoria. (Time expired)


Mr SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?