House debates

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Constituency Statements

Calare Electorate: Palmers Oaky Rural Fire Service

11:03 am

Photo of Andrew GeeAndrew Gee (Calare, National Party, Minister for Decentralisation and Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I pay tribute to the members of the Palmers Oaky Rural Fire Service brigade that faced the catastrophic bushfire season of 2019-20. Australia's Black Summer is seared in the memory of all of us, from those communities in our region and around Australia who faced the infernos to the many millions around the country and around the world who watched the fires rage on their television screens. The blazes that tore through the central west devastated so much, not just lives but families, businesses and communities.

So, today I'd like to acknowledge and thank the members of the Palmers Oaky Rural Fire Service brigade, including Captain Nino Di Falco, Deputy Captain Phillip Morcombe, Adam Basanovic, Andrew Shumack, Chris Schofield, Colin Ferguson, Duncan Ferguson, Geoff Shumack, Glenn Sundstrom, Glen Fuller, James (Stuart) Ferguson, Louis De Silva, Scott Fuller, Shane O'Leary and Vanessa Oloffson

On 4 December 2019 the Palmers Oaky Upper Turon Road fire broke out in the central west and went on to burn more than 17,400 hectares of private property, state forest and national park. By midday that day, members of the Palmers Oaky brigade answered the call and had well and truly swung into action, with members of the brigade having to face some of the most savage conditions ever witnessed during a bushfire season.

Over the next 20 days the brigade, both on the front line and back at the fire shed, worked day and night fighting the fires in and around Palmers Oaky. Much of the dangerous work undertaken by the brigade was in hilly and mountainous terrain. Brigade captain Nino Di Falco has said that the brigade's firefighting response was a massive group effort which included essential behind-the-scenes work which stood them in good stead in the face of these Black Summer infernos.

In recalling the efforts of the entire brigade, Nino makes special mention of Chris Schofield and Duncan Ferguson, who worked their bulldozers day and night at their own expense, constructing fire control lines before the official RFS equipment was on site. But the efforts of the brigade were not just confined to this area, with so many also making an enormous contribution to the megablaze at Gospers Mountain. This fire destroyed an area seven times the size of Singapore.

The fire at Palmers Oaky ultimately jumped Gulf Road and the Turon River into the midwestern region and the Cudgegong Rural Fire Service district, which was also managing major incidents. In Palmers Oaky the brigade lost 14 square kilometres, mostly bushland. However, brigade captain Nino Di Falco recalls that three times that amount was lost to the fires on the other side of the Turon River. The hardworking, dedicated crews were able to gain control in early January and finally declared the fire out in February 2020. I'm pleased to say that the efforts of the Palmers Oaky brigade have not been forgotten by all of us—or any of us—in the community, especially as communities continue to rebuild their lives following the devastation that the bushfires brought during that long, hot, dangerous summer.

Fourteen members of the Palmers Oaky Rural Fire Service Brigade have received Premier' Citations thanking them for their efforts in fighting against the massive fire front. On behalf of our communities in the central west, I'd like to thank all the men and women of the Palmers Oaky brigade, who did so much during those terrifying days when everything was on a knife edge. We are very grateful for your commitment and your sacrifice in keeping our community safe, and this parliament recognises you and thanks you for this extraordinary service today. (Time expired)

A division having been called in the House of Representatives

Sitting suspended from 11:06 to 11:17