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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 276

Mr RUDDOCK (10.18 a.m.) —I commend my colleague the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) for raising this matter. It is very appropriate that this House should express its sadness at the loss of human life and the damage to fauna, flora and property caused by the recent bushfires in New South Wales and to commend the efforts and sacrifices of those who were involved in fighting the fires. I commend those who were involved from New South Wales and even more particularly those who came from interstate. I thank my colleague for giving us this opportunity to speak to this motion. His electorate was more devastated than mine. Homes were lost and others had the sadness of people losing their lives. That is one aspect of fires that we do not often see.

  From the time of my youth I have been aware of the propensity for bushfires in the area in which I have lived and which I now represent. We are surrounded by parks. Lane Cove national park and Ku-ring-gai Chase national park adjoin the electorate of Berowra, along with Pennant Hills Park, the Elouera Reserve, and Muogamarra Nature Reserve. Each of these very substantial parks border significant residential areas of Sydney.

  There was concern that the fires which were devastating other areas would be unleashed in the Berowra electorate. In fact, we were mercifully spared. The loss was not significant, although it was for those who did suffer. Oliver's Garage on the Pacific Highway out of Brooklyn, for those who might remember the old road, was one property that was lost.

  The house which adjoined it had been owned for 50 years by the Oliver family. Mr Oliver died about five years ago and Mrs Oliver, who is in her 80s, was living alone in the house. As the fires approached she was asked to leave, but she refused and later her son came and forcibly removed her from the house. Five minutes later it was ablaze, and the laundry in which she had been sitting caved in, so she had a very lucky escape.

  Other properties were destroyed. An unoccupied fisherman's hut in the Brooklyn area was destroyed and I understand that close to Wisemans Ferry in what may, in fact, be the electorate of Macquarie rather than Berowra, four houses and numerous outbuildings at what is known as Trollop Reach—the name originally given to the Wisemans Ferry area—were lost. There was also a fire in the Muogamarra Reserve.

  I particularly want to commend Keith Harrap, the control centre commander at Hornsby. He is the control centre commander for the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai bush fire brigades. He tells me that we lost something of the order of 12,480 hectares of bushland right through the Muogamarra Reserve.

  Along the Hawkesbury River north of Brooklyn the scene is desolate. The intensity of the fireballs that obviously impacted as they swept across the landscape can only be imagined. The fire threatened communities such as Brooklyn. Dangar Island was worried that it might be taken out. That community on water, which has very little in the way of firefighting equipment, faced real fear. It was only a matter of a few degrees direction from which the wind was blowing that spared Brooklyn.

  If the fire had come just a couple of degrees north of the town the boats and boatsheds would have been destroyed, and that would have been an horrific situation. An enormous effort was made by many people from the Hornsby Ku-ring-gai bush fire brigades. Seventeen groups were involved. They were assisted by the Baulkham Hills team, which again was mercifully relieved on this occasion, and a contingent from the Country Fire Service of South Australia. They were mainly volunteers. Water bombing by helicopters was used quite extensively.

  I want to take the opportunity to commend not only Keith Harrap and his deputies, Mr Graham Blinksell, Assistant Director, North Metropolitan Region National Parks and Wildlife Service, and John Anderson, zone commander of the New South Wales Fire Brigades, but also all the volunteers who assisted so actively. I also commend Commissioner Koperberg for his leadership role. It was something that the people of New South Wales greatly admired.

  I endorse the comments that have been made by so many of my colleagues about the evident arson that was involved. I find it impossible to imagine how people could want to start fires which create such terror. The Bush Telegraph, a local newspaper, wrote about these matters because little townships like Berowra, Mount Kuring-gai and Mount Colah all felt threatened as a result of the fires as the winds blew and changed directions. What is depicted here, I think, is the fear that so many people were forced to endure terror. The questions were:

Will I lose everything? Will I be safe? Will we survive? What if the fire comes up our valley—then what? What do we do? Where do we go? Are we evacuating or not? Will help be there when we need it most?

This fear was evident throughout the whole community. But I want to take this opportunity of talking about something else. The F3 out of Sydney and the northern rail line were blocked and, of course, it meant that there were large numbers of people in the community unable to reach their own homes, without accommodation, without food; thousands of people who needed to be provided for. The spirit of the community came out in providing that food: the local RSL clubs, the halls that were open; the activities of the councils, the mayor, Chris Meany, who arranged with council for funds to buy food for people who were temporarily unable to proceed. As I read through the Bush Telegraph I find a report of a large number of people who were left having to sleep next to their cars or in the community centre on the floor, and of the efforts of so many who helped to provide for them.

  Having said all that, I think it is more important to think about the future, as some of my colleagues have today. There is a concern in my electorate about the adequacy of the equipment that they have for fighting fires. It is a very real concern. I hope that in relation to the funds that have been very generously subscribed there may be a surfeit to assist in re-equipping many of the brigades, particularly in these places like Dangar Island, which is so much out of the way, or Brooklyn. There need to be vessels that can be used. We need to look nationally at how we can acquire other equipment. There has been a good deal of argument about whether or not these planes that might carry large amounts of water could be usefully used. It seems to me that for the Commonwealth there may be a capacity to acquire such equipment nationally that could be used throughout Australia. They are matters that we need to look at.

  The Commonwealth was involved using the disaster relief arrangements to assist people and the firefighters. It is a matter which I will talk about on another occasion, but it was important, in the context of the difficulties that we faced, that we looked at ways and means of helping those people who were affected and those people who were giving up so much of their time at great personal inconvenience and often great risk. I commend the government for what it did. I will criticise it later for some of the shortcomings in relation to the way in which the matter was dealt with, but when the legislation is looked at will be a more appropriate time.