Speech at the 50th Anniversary Commemoration Ceremony of the 1967 Bushfires


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Being blessed with a tranquil and calm day such as we are enjoying it is hard to imagine the darkness, the flames and the sheer terror that engulfed our community exactly 50 years ago – to the very minute.

On that day 50 years ago, a young grade 4 boy was evacuated from his school and then his home to shelter on the nearby beach never thinking that 50 years later he would be addressing a commemoration service on behalf of the Prime Minister and people of Australia.  

My personal experience, frightening and disorienting as it was pales into insignificance with what family friends and relatives experienced.

Recently I was reminded:

Of the family that drove from their Glenorchy acreage as their house and all their belongings were engulfed.

Of the now grown man- but then as a three year old witnessing his mother’s clothes catch alight in South Hobart

Of Councillor Grace’s brother Nigel’s BP Service station at Margate being destroyed. – featuring as the centrefold in today’s souvenir lift-out in The Mercury.

Of a young married couple that lost all their possessions.

Yet they were possibly the fortunate ones.

As Roger McNeice has told us – 64 people lost their lives, countless others injured with tales of miraculous escape. Thousands were left homeless. Business premises, vehicles and stock destroyed by an insatiable inferno.

And in the aftermath, in that time of extreme need not only did our fellow Tasmanians rally but all Australians, with clothes, food, caravans and personal labour and generous donations. From our Queen, the Governor General and the Prime Minister Mr Holt came immediate messages of support.

Our Liberal Prime Minister Harold Holt, who made a Prime Ministerial statement to the Parliament about the disaster, worked ever so closely with our Labor Premier Eric Reece to endure hardship was alleviated and maximum support delivered.

The generosity, the support, and the prayers that were offered by our fellow Australians could not remove the blackness of the charred landscape or return loved ones. But what it did do was provide succour, comfort and practical support allowing us in this region to know we were not alone. And as we did before and we have done so often since, we have rallied to support our fellow Australians in times of crisis and natural disasters as they did for us.

May this commemoration service and the plaques be a comfort to those that still mourn or live with the tragedy of 50 years ago. We have not forgotten.

May this service also be an inspirational reminder of how as individuals and community we do recover, we do rebuild, we do re-establish.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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