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Childers fire podcast launches Friday

Childers fire podcast
Childers — The Full Story will be available on Apple and Google podcast apps from Friday, 29 May.

A podcast series on the Childers Backpacker Hostel fire will launch on Friday, 29 May and continue over 18 episodes until 30 June.

The series provides an insightful account of the fire on 23 June 2000 which dominated headlines around the world and thrust Childers into an unwelcome international spotlight.

The deliberately lit fire ravaged the near century-old converted two-storey Palace Hotel and claimed 15 lives, including overseas backpackers who died in their beds or in hallways, overcome by smoke as they attempted to crawl to safety. The event rates as one of Australia’s worst mass murders.

The podcast series, developed by former Bundaberg newspaper and television journalist Paul Cochrane, is the most comprehensive documentation of the events leading up to the fire, the critical participants, the impacted survivors, family and friends and the events that have unfolded during the 20 years since the fire.

“I decided to call the podcast series simply “Childers” because no matter where you go around the world the name Childers is still linked to the tragedy of the fire,” said Paul.

He said the limitations imposed by a need for short news grabs at the time meant that much of the story surrounding the Childers Backpacker Hostel fire has never been told or recorded.

“The 20 years has provided the right timeframe. It has allowed many people to come to terms with the event and to be prepared to openly discuss their involvement and their feelings,” he said.

“My parents have retired to Childers and I regularly visit them and the Palace Memorial has been a powerful motivator for me to put this series together.

“I was 24 and in the fifth day of my fifth week as a local television journalist at the time of the fire and it ranks as the most overwhelming story of my career.”

Childers fire podcast by Paul Cochrane
Former Bundaberg newspaper and television journalist Paul Cochrane.

Paul said it's obvious that for some the 20 years have passed quickly while for many they continue to live with the trauma of the tragedy almost every minute of their lives.

The 18-part Childers fire podcast series opens with the recollections of Colin “Curl” Santacaterina, captain of the local Childers Fire Brigade and his co-fireman Bob Winkelmann, the first men into the blazing building.

“In the next three episodes we look at the impact on the town, gather thoughts from some of the survivors and hear from Ken Morris from Wales, father of Natalie Morris who perished in the blaze. The first-hand accounts of family and survivors is deeply personal and incredibly moving.”

Paul said that despite the obvious grief, loss and sense of unreality, there is an underlying thread that clearly defines Childers as a community of resilience and compassion.

“I think it is also evident that there was excellence portrayed by the emergency services, great governance by the Council and simply good policing which is a statement of credit to a small community,” he said.

The podcast series “Childers” commences Friday, May 29 on Apple iTunes and Android with new instalments released each Monday, Wednesday and Friday through until the end of June.

The Childers fire podcast series was developed by Paul Cochrane with assistance from Bundaberg Regional Council.

Palace fire
The aftermath of the devastating Palace Backpackers Hostel fire on 23 June 2000. Photo by the NewsMail from the book “The Palace — The Story” by Wayne Heidrich.

Childers fire podcast first episodes

Episode 1

Col Santacaterina and Hayden Whittaker

Two of the first respondents from the local fire crew. They talk about what they encountered as they entered the building. They said the heat of the fire was so intense it melted the front of their brand new fire truck as it was being parked out the front of the Palace 

“With the design and layout of that building, it was as simple as those who turned one way survived and those who turned the other way didn't sort of thing.” — Hayden Whittaker

Episode 2

Sarah Mahoney, survivor from Brisbane

Talks about being trapped and falling asleep while she was trying to escape. She fell into a dream about her parents attending her funeral which awoke her. She said she has always been good with directions and somehow had like an internal GPS map in her head of how to get out.

“I remember my brain just said, you're not going to die today.”

Episode 3

Features Western Australian sisters Kate and Lauren Morris

Kate was a chronic asthmatic and collapsing on the bedroom floor, unable to find the energy to escape. Her younger sister Lauren wouldn’t take no for an swear and dragged her out of the building.

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