10th Wangary Fire Anniversary

Whenever we experience a very hot day, with a strong, blustery north wind, one cannot but be reminded of January 11, 2005. But not one day since then has equalled the ferocity of that fateful day. And what a terrible day it was – with the most awful consequences. I was the senior police officer in charge, and at the end of the day, we began to realise the dreadful loss of life and the massive extent of damage to houses and property and stock.

The community of the Lower Eyre Peninsula for the first few days following the fire, was in a state of shock – numbed by the devastation. But slowly the recovery process began. Premier Mike Rann  chaired a meeting of community representatives and from that, a smaller recovery committee was established, under the chairmanship of Vince Monterola , and I was privileged to serve on that committee. Vince was awarded and Order of Australia commendation for his leadership. People looked to him with confidence, and they were not disappointed.

Gradually resources came flooding in, and the Premier flew in from Adelaide day after day and later ensured that a Cabinet Minister was in Port Lincoln each day to specifically resolve problems and to remove any bureaucratic stumbling blocks.

The various churches in Port Lincoln swung into action, doing what they do best, caring for people and providing welfare and support where it was needed.

Rotary was well supported too, from clubs across Australia and provided fire tanks and support vehicles for the CFS. Rotary also provided funding for the restoration of the Lions Hostel at North Shields, and for improvements to Nyroca Camp, which was set up as a volunteer base. Groups of Rotarians came Victoria and New Zealand.

Volunteers performed many tasks, especially by way of building fences on farm properties, and as a consequence many lasting friendships were established. David Hendry for example (a farmer from Western Australia) was holidaying in Queensland, and on hearing about the fire, he and his wife drove down with his caravan, and for about six months worked on the recovery, mostly attending to the needs of farmers. David remains a dear friend and he’ll be returning to the district in a few months’ time to catch up with people he met.

The Freemasons provided over $100,000 for 16 fire fighting tanks across the Lower Eyre Peninsula, and more recently (in the last month), have provided another at Sleaford.

During the course of the recovery, Vince Monterola convened many community meetings to keep people informed of the progress, and to hear of the concerns and needs of anyone who might be finding things insurmountable. Sue Patterson and Kate Eglington I remember did a great job by way of strengthening the mental health aspect.

Another good soldier was Jane Smith, who coordinated and marshalled a huge effort at Cummins, providing a great service to victims of the fire.

The recovery effort following the fire was a copybook example on how a community can garner resources and work as a team in reaching its goals. Some of the many people who played a crucial role I have mentioned in this little article. There were so many others who contributed so much to restore and strengthen this wonderful community.


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