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Floral tributes honour 15 young lives lost

Sarah Mahoney
A survivor of the Childers Backpacker Hostel fire, Sarah Mahoney, spoke to media this morning on the tragic event's 20th anniversary.

Rows of floral tributes placed against the glass memorial wall were a tangible salute to the 15 lives lost in the Childers Backpackers Hostel fire 20 years ago.

Mayor Jack Dempsey, Deputy Mayor Bill Trevor and Council chief executive Steve Johnston placed the first wreath on behalf of the wider Bundaberg Region community.

People directly involved 20 years ago, political representatives and QFES personnel were joined by dozens of ordinary people during the day to remember an extraordinary event that catapulted the town of Childers into national and international headlines.

Cr Trevor said the tragic event would always be remembered.

“Today, 20 years later we remembered the events and the young lives lost. I suspect the community of Childers will always remember this event and how it impacted this town,” he said.

“We do not pick and choose what becomes history but there is no doubt this event is embedded in the historic DNA of Childers and the Bundaberg Region.

“I think history will never treat the perpetrator kindly. However, widespread sentiment here and around the world has acknowledged the manner in which the 15 lives lost have been honoured and how a small community here in Childers opened a generous heart to those who survived the fire.”

Palace Memorial
Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey and Deputy Mayor Bill Trevor placed a wreath at the Childers Backpackers Hostel memorial to remember the 15 young lives that were lost on 23 June 2000.

Mayor Jack Dempsey said Council was disappointed it had not been able to present a formal commemorative service to acknowledge the 20th anniversary.

“Unfortunately the pandemic intervened and our plans were simply not feasible. I know families, survivors – so many people – were left disappointed.

“However, I think the anniversary has been remembered with a deep reverence. I thank the media for its role in sharing this anniversary across Australia and the world.”

Mayor Dempsey said Council staff had produced a 30-minute video to honour the anniversary globally.

It will be release on YouTube this evening at 6pm.

Childers resident Donna Duncan, who assisted in coordinating support for the survivors, said she had approached the anniversary with mixed emotions.

“It brings back a truckload of sad memories that make you wish for tomorrow and the opportunity to have this day behind you,” she said.

“But then you remember the way this community teamed together and the plain hard work and acts of generosity that enabled us to cater to the kids who had survived this tragedy.”

Donna said the gratitude expressed 20 years ago to the people of Childers had been echoed over the intervening years.

“They haven’t forgotten what this community did for them when they needed it the most,” she said.

“I still receive cards and letters from around the world. Out of a dark time for our community grew some amazing friendships.”

Hostel blaze survivor Sarah Mahoney visited the memorial with her husband Matt Smith.

The couple now live on the Sunshine Coast and Sarah said it was important for her to attend today’s anniversary.

“In addition to personal reasons, I also have messages from other survivors who really wanted to place on record their enduring thanks to the people of the Childers community and to the emergency services personnel who responded 20 years ago,” she said.

“Many survivors are disappointed they could not be here today. They consider Childers as a second home and the community as an extended family.

“At the time they opened themselves up to us and took on the burden of our grief. If this had happened in another place I don’t think people could shoulder that burden.

“In some ways the event feels like yesterday but 20 years has slipped by. I believe it was that initial care and support from this community that enabled most of us to get on with our lives.”

A steady stream of community members filed through the memorial room to pay their respects on the Childers fire anniversary.

Many were provided with native foliage posies prepared by Council staff and made available to place at the memorial.

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