An aerial view of the Palace  Backpackers hostel the day of the fire.
An aerial view of the Palace Backpackers hostel the day of the fire. Bundaberg News Mail

Childers remembers 10 years on

TEARS flowed in Childers yesterday as about 70 people – survivors, families of victims and locals – gathered to remember the 15 backpackers who died in the Palace Hostel fire 10 years ago.

In a memorial that was always going to be emotional, the most wrenching moment came at the beginning when the mother of one of the victims addressed the crowd.

Supported by husband George, Sheila Webb wept as she told of the horror of losing her 24-year-old daughter Claire to the blaze.

“Our grief knows no bounds,” Ms Webb said.

With the plaque dedicated to her daughter only metres away on the memorial wall, Ms Webb said everyone at the occasion was united in grief.

“We are here to thank you all for all the love and support when our lives changed forever,” she said.

As Ms Webb made her way back to her seat Valerie Amos, the British High Commissioner to Australia, rose from her chair and gave her a hug.

Bill Trevor, who was mayor of Isis at the time of the fire, said dealing with the tragedy had not become any easier over the years.

“It seems like yesterday,” he said.

“Over the 10 years I've met and greeted parents and survivors and I've seen the pain in their eyes, pain that will never go away.”

Mr Trevor said the victims' families were robbed of the opportunity to watch their children grow up and have children of their own.

He said the fire had changed Childers too.

No small community could go through a tragedy like that and not be affected in some way, he said.

Mr Trevor said he was intensely proud of the community and the way it reacted to the horror of that night.

“Many lives on that day were changed forever, broken and never to recover,” he said.

“I share your pain.”

Survivor Richard Tempest, speaking on behalf of all the survivors, said being back in Childers he felt like he had never been away.

“In some ways it feels like 10 years have passed, and in others it doesn't,” he said.

Mr Tempest said he was still in touch with many of the survivors and they often spoke of the bond forged with Childers.

Bundaberg mayor Lorraine Pyefinch read a message from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in which he expressed his sympathies.

“While we mourn the loss of life, I commend this community's ability to come together in compassion, remembrance and support,” he said.

Ms Pyefinch expressed a special welcome to survivors of the fire.

“We hope that your time here today is a time of remembering, healing, renewing old friendships and making new ones,” she said.

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