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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (30 January) . . Page.. 24 ..

MR CORNWELL (continuing):

Having been away on 18 January, I have relied to a large extent upon the Canberra Times for information. Each morning I have been reading assiduously the thankyous that have come from all over the affected areas, and what have struck me are the repeated reports of young people coming to the help and assistance of residents in difficulties-sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins and their mates.

One report was that one house was saved when the woman's daughter turned up, together with four other wedding guests, and immediately pitched in to save the property. You presumably get yourself up in reasonable clobber to go to a wedding, but that obviously was not important in terms of saving the property. I find it inspiring that so many young people were involved in this. More often than not in this chamber we hear criticism of the young, and I guess to some extent that goes with our job.

People were repeatedly turning up, quite often complete strangers, just to assist people whose need was greater than theirs. I believe that they should be commended, along with all the emergency personnel that Mr Wood has already mentioned. Both locally and interstate, these are very professional people, and they deserve our commendation. I would like to thank them, on my behalf and on behalf of the people of my electorate, for the work that they have done.

I would also like to place on record that, as Urban Services spokesman, I pledge that the opposition will co-operate with the government in any way we can to assist our electorates to overcome this tragedy. Thank you.

MR CORBELL (Minister for Health and Minister for Planning) (11.49): Mr Speaker, the events of the afternoon of 18 January 2003 have been painfully and vividly etched onto the collective consciousness of our city. Four Canberrans are tragically dead. Others still lie seriously ill in hospital or bear the emotional or physical injuries inflicted as a result of the firestorm which descended upon us. As the Chief Minister and other members have stated, at least 1,000 Canberrans are now homeless, their 500 and more homes destroyed. Too many more are damaged. It is a tragedy beyond measure in Canberra's history.

Yet this fire is difficult to grasp. None of us saw it all; we all saw only parts. Perhaps that is why we all talked to everyone else about it-to grasp the enormity of the devastation and the impact on the lives, homes and livelihoods of so many. There is no single story of Saturday 18 January. Instead, there are tens of thousands of individual ones. Friends, family and even strangers have another part of the story of that day. By sharing our own and hearing theirs, we can better grasp and understand what this fire did.

Like so many Canberrans, my own story is a blur of disjointed and vivid images, sounds and sensations. That Saturday was hot, very hot. It felt as though the wind had sucked every last drop of moisture out of the trees, the air and the ground. The sky was hazy, as it had been for days, filled with the smoke of fires that were close but seemingly distant from my suburb. I had come home after being out all night. I slept and then my partner woke me. I heard the radio. Outside the wind was stronger, curiously bending trees-full, large, mature trees-into a swirling, manic dance.

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