Residents to boycott bushfire memorial
Ric Hingee at the Bushfire memorial near Stromlo Forest Park. He and other residents affected by the 2003 fire storm, are boycotting the ACT Government's 10 year anniversary of the event. Photo: Graham Tidy
A GROUP of ACT residents whose homes were destroyed in the 2003 Canberra firestorm have promised to boycott the official government commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy that destroyed nearly 500 homes and claimed four lives.
As much of eastern Australia went on high alert on Saturday and bushfires tore through the Tasmanian township of Dunalley, Weston Creek residents hit by the 2003 disaster said they would not join the official 10th anniversary event on January 18 in protest of the government's handling of the emergency.
Spokesmen for the residents, Ric Hingee and Laurence Buchanan, whose homes in Duffy were destroyed, said residents were still angry that the government become involved in Supreme Court action to have coroner Maria Doogan disqualified from its own bushfire inquiry after appointing her.
“The appeal showed that the government and its bureaucracy were not interested in accepting any responsibility or accountability," Mr Hingee said.
Mr Buchanan's family was left with just 20 minutes to evacuate. Almost a decade later his wife Gail still shakes with anger and has tears in her eyes as she talks about driving away.
“There was nothing left. Nothing – we got out with the clothes on our back and the bikes," Ms Buchanan said.
“The way the government handled many, many things still upsets me," she said.
But at the top of the list is the lack of warnings residents living in the path of the fire received.
“The fire was an act of nature but the fact the government choose not to warn the people of Canberra really angered me," Ms Buchanan said.
An ACT Supreme Court challenge of Ms Doogan's findings upheld 40. Chief Justice Terence Higgins found four senior public servants “failed to respond to the growing fire threat in a timely and effective way, including the issue of warnings to the public."
But acting Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who was unavailable for interview, said in a statement that it was a time for Canberrans to remember those who had died.
"The memorial being held on the 18th of January for the 10th anniversary of the 2003 Canberra bushfires is an opportunity for those in our community who wish to do so, to reflect on that time and remember those who lost their lives and homes," Mr Barr said.
But Mr Hingee said the bushfire memorial did not even name the four people who lost their lives until bushfire-affected families took it upon themselves to add their own heartfelt addition to the ACT Bushfire Memorial.
“I don't understand why their names weren't put in in the first place. But it was something we had to do ourselves. I was horrified when I found out they were not named."
He said it was the residents who placed a tangible recognition of the four people who died on January 18: Duffy residents Alison Tener, 38; Doug Fraser, 60; and Peter Brooke, 73; and Stromlo resident Dorothy "Dolly" McGrath, 76.