ACT News


Remembering a tragedy of momentous proportion

Canberra pauses on Friday to mark one of the most devastating events in its still-short history - the January 18 firestorm.

Coroner Maria Doogan in her report on the 2003 disaster called the firestorm a "tragedy of momentous proportion".

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Four people died in the firestorm 10 years ago. A total of 435 people were injured. A total of 487 homes were destroyed. Twenty-three commercial and government premises were wiped out. Another 215 homes, commercial premises and government buildings were damaged. The Mount Stromlo Observatory was destroyed. Countless animals died including an estimated 4000 sheep. Almost 70 per cent of the ACT - 157,170 hectares - was burnt. The financial loss was at least $610 million.

The four people who died were Dorothy McGrath, 77; Alison Tener, 38; Doug Fraser, 61 and Peter Brooke, 73.


David Tener was married to Alison. Their sons, then boys, are now young men - Adam is 24; Jason 22 and Simon, 19. She is never far from their thoughts. Although, Mr Tener said they were "much happier than even five years ago".

"It's like an injury," he said. "You have an open wound, it heals, but you still have the scar. It never really goes away."

Canberrans will be marking the firestorm at official events but also in their own private way.

The 10th anniversary comes in the same year as the city celebrates its centenary.

A run down of events for Friday is:

8.30am: A breakfast and launch of the Past Present Future exhibition at the Scope cafe on Mount Stromlo. The exhibition celebrates a "community's experience of birth and renewal". The exhibition is a centenary event. Speakers will include Chief Scientist for Australia Ian Chubb, Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young, Scope director Simone Hunter, Duffy resident Ric Hingee, ranger Brett McNamara, Council of Small Business of Australia executive director Peter Strong, Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer and 666 ABC Canberra manager Liz McGrath. The official opening of the exhibition will be at 9am.

10am: The ACT Bushfire Memorial, on the corner of Uriarra and Cotter Roads, Weston, will host the official commemoration event put on by the ACT Government. Speaking at the event will be Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, Emergency Services Agency chaplain the Reverend Kerry Bartlett, former Canberra of the Year Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Pat Power and Jane Smyth, who lost her Chapman home in the firestorm.

People are encouraged to arrive by 9.45am. The ceremony is expected to run for 45 minutes. Parking will be available at Mount Stromlo Forest Park car park and will be clearly signposted. The memorial is about a seven-minute walk from the car park. A shuttle bus will be available from the carpark for people who need assistance.Bottled water will be available. Lifeline counsellors will also be on hand. The official party will plant a number of Centenary Correas at the conclusion of the event.

11am:  ActewAGL will commemorate the 2003 Canberra bushfires with a photographic exhibition recognising the significant work of ActewAGL staff during the bushfire recovery effort. Tens of kilometres of electricity wires and 960 poles were destroyed or severely damaged, leaving 37,500 homes without power across 52 of Canberra’s 123 suburbs. Some 6500 homes were also without gas.

The Mount Stromlo and Googong water treatment plants were not operating and the sewerage treatment plant at Lower Molonglo was largely disabled.

“Many ActewAGL staff showed heroic dedication to restore essential services, completing a year’s worth of repair in just nine days. At the peak of activity there were 350 staff on the ground working on the recovery effort and many staff worked for nine days straight,’’ ActewAGL chairman John Mackay said.

The photographic exhibition includes more than 70 images. The public is invited to view the exhibition on the ground floor of ActewAGL House, Bunda Street, Civic from 11am to 4pm on Friday.

7pm: The ABC 666 Now Hear This story-telling event with the theme Out of the Ashes will be held on Mount Stromlo. Seats for the event have already been reserved. There will be six local speakers.

8pm: The destroyed domes of the Mount Stromlo Observatory will be illuminated. The public is welcome to attend.

Join us at for all the latest on the 2003 firestorm anniversary, as Canberra commemorates one of its darkest days ten years on.