It has been twenty years since the Palace Backpackers fire in Childers. Sarah Mahoney.
It has been twenty years since the Palace Backpackers fire in Childers. Sarah Mahoney. Mike Knott

Survivor speaks at today's Childers fire commemoration

TWENTY years ago, on a night thick with fog, 15 innocent lives were cut short at the hand of Robert Paul Long.

Today, those who were there on the night and members of the public paid their respects to the Palace 15.

An emotional Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey, Deputy Mayor Bill Trevor and CEO Steve Johnston laid a wreath to remember the lives lost.

While COVID-19 restrictions prevented a lot of people from paying their respects, Australian Sarah Mahoney, who was a backpacker at the time and survived the blaze, visited the Palace memorial on behalf of the survivors that couldn't.

"We're bonded through an experience no one will ever understand, other than each other," she said.

"If this had happened anywhere else it wouldn't be the same.

"When we came out of the fire we all ran across the road to the pub, the doors were open and there was much-needed beer on tap.

"From there on Bill (Trevor) and Donna (Duncan) and so many other community members, everything we needed we had. They cooked for us, they gave us emotional support - if we needed a shoulder to cry on there was a shoulder, if we needed a hug there was a hug.

"The whole community opened themselves up for us and made themselves vulnerable and took on the burden of our grief."

She said it was because of the kindness of the Childers community the survivors were able to recover they way they had.

"If this happened in other places, I don't think you'd have people shoulder that burden with you," she said.

"They walked us through that and that's why so many of us were able to have a good recovery and get on with our lives and move on.

"I thank the people of Childers for that, all the volunteers and all the people who helped out."

Sarah said she couldn't believe it had been 20 years.

"It feels like yesterday in some ways, 20 years sure flies by," she said.

"I've visited a couple of times and drive through a little bit."

Sarah shared messages from the survivors who couldn't attend the memorial.

"This is from Bianca, she said that 'we are all connected by love forever, and she means the whole community of Childers when she says that'," she said.

"Jules and Lisa say 'we wish we could be here in person, but we are here in spirit, and have only love for the town and all the 15 people we lost. I've also been instructed to say a big thank you to the entire town, I'm to thank all the firefighters, the police, the ambulance, the hospital, the councillors, and all the volunteers'."

Childers local Peter Von Dohlen said he remembered the hostel fire from all those years ago.

"It's a very sad day, it was chaos," he said.

"I had a few friends who died in the fire, I was here 10 years ago for that anniversary too.

"I'm still in contact with one of the survivors who now lives in New South Wales and he was meant to come up for the anniversary." 


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