Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park Bushfire Anniversary
Mr DEBUS (Blue Mountains—Attorney General, Minister for the Environment, Minister for Emergency Services, and Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts) [2.18 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House that tomorrow marks the first anniversary of a tragic event. One year ago four New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service officers lost their lives in a hazard reduction operation at Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Today I am sure that honourable members of this House join me in remembering George Fitzsimmons, Claire Deane, Erik Furlan and Mark Cupit. Our thoughts are also with three of their fellow officers who are still recovering from the terrible injuries they sustained in this tragic incident, and with their families, friends and colleagues.
Of the three injured staff, one, Jamie Shaw, remains in the Burns Unit of Royal North Shore Hospital and is making steady improvements to his mobility after undergoing major skin grafting operations. The other two injured officers, Luke McSweeney and Natalie Saville, are now mobile and have been able to catch up with friends and colleagues. Since this tragedy, three memorials to those who died have been established. Perpetual study awards honouring each of the four staff have been developed in accordance with their specialist fields. In April this year the first two inaugural awards, honouring Claire Deane and Erik Furlan, were presented to students of the Bush Regeneration II Certificate course at the Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE at Ryde.
Claire Deane, who was a well-known and respected former student of that course, was honoured with a special award. Her parents proudly presented that award at the institute's award night in April. Erik Furlan was also honoured with an award for "Outstanding Practical Achievement and Field Work in Bush Regeneration". The National Parks and Wildlife Service has initiated two awards in honour of George Fitzsimmons and Mark Cupit in the fields of marine mammal management and field officer skills. George and Mark were two outstanding field officers, and their families supported the establishment of these two perpetual awards for the continuation of the work they did. The George Fitzsimmons Award for Marine Mammal Management and the Mark Cupit Award for Excellence in Field Officer Skills will be managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service as part of its ongoing staff training.
Other memorials have been established, by the Mount Kuring-gai community and by the colleagues of those who died, at two separate sites. Last Sunday I had the privilege of attending a dedication service. The honourable member for Hornsby was also present, and I am sure he will agree that it was a moving ceremony. The service was held in Seaview Avenue Park in Mount Kuring-gai, where the Mount Kuring-gai residents and Hornsby shire council erected a community memorial. The memorial is a clear recognition of the value that that community places on the work undertaken by National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, both in bush regeneration and hazard reduction programs. In particular, the memorial will commemorate the lives of those four officers whose work related directly to protecting the homes of local residents from bushfire.
A special memorial, a bush rock seat constructed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service staff containing an engraved plaque, was recently erected along the track in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park near the site of the tragedy. That memorial was recently unveiled by staff in the presence of family members. Under the tragic circumstances of last year, families and staff have been coping extraordinarily well and have a positive outlook towards the future. I am sure that all honourable members of this House will join me in thinking of bereaved friends, families and colleagues on this very sad anniversary.
Mr O'DOHERTY (Hornsby) [2.22 p.m.]: I join with the Minister for the Environment in recognising the first anniversary tomorrow of that dreadful day when four National Parks and Wildlife Service volunteers lost their lives and others were seriously injured. This tragedy happened in an action that was designed to protect life and property in the Mount Kuring-gai area, which adjoins Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Many honourable members will remember that day. Members who may have experienced a disaster or tragedy of this kind in their electorate will know how important that day is in my memory, as it would be in the memory of the Minister. I recall that the House was sitting, and we were advised during the sitting that a tragedy had occurred. I, like the Minister, headed out to the area and spoke with those who were present: service workers, volunteers, and local residents. During that week I spent some time talking with the residents in particular and others who had been involved in the tragedy.
The residents of Mount Kuring-gai, whom I represent, and people throughout the Hornsby area are very much aware of the work done by volunteers and service staff involved in this controlled burn operation. They very much appreciate the work that was done on their behalf. I said at the time, and it is still true today, that the sense of tragedy is made deeper because this operation was to protect the lives of others. It was an operation on behalf of the community. The community has a very real sense of shared tragedy and mourning with the families directly involved. When I attended the memorial service last Sunday, at which the Minister was also present, that feeling came through very strongly. One year after the tragedy the community continues to reflect on it on a daily basis. As one comes into Mount Kuring-gai the bush is what one sees: the bush is what defines that community.
The proximity of Mount Kuring-gai to Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park helps define what the community is about. The people in the Mount Kuring-gai area are a very close-knit community. Such events often define our communities. The tragedy has brought people in the community closer together with a very real and deep reflection each day on the sacrifices that were made on their behalf. They would want me to say how much they appreciate the memory of those who died, and how much they share in the loss of those families who were directly affected.
I thank Mark Burnett and Roland Briefrel of the Mount Kuring-gai Residents Action Group for their work in helping to establish the memorial in Seaview Park and arranging the dedication service last Sunday. I thank the Minister and personnel from the National Parks and Wildlife Service for what they have done to help to perpetuate the memory of the officers who lost their lives. Most importantly, I thank the officers who lost their lives. George Fitzsimmons, Erik Furlan, Mark Cupit and Claire Dean are forever, in a way that cannot be unravelled, a part of the lives and community of Mount Kuring-gai.