The small rural town of Childers is the closest town to where I live at Woodgate Beach (a tiny village that I have lived in for about 3 years). It is a gorgeous town with beautiful old tin and timber Queenslander buildings and wide streets lined with leopard trees. It’s like stepping back in time.
The town is surrounded by rolling hills and fertile land with rich red volcanic soils. The farms produce sugar cane, avocado, macadamia and many other fruits and vegetables. Every year backpackers come from around the world to pick the produce and are very much appreciated by the locals.
Ten years ago on the 23 June 2000 there was a fire in the Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers, killing 15 young backpackers – 9 women and 6 men, young travelers from Ireland, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. About 60 others managed to escape or were helped out by firefighters. Locals were quick to provide support for the survivors.
Robert Paul Long deliberately set the hostel ablaze, trapping people inside. He is serving a life sentence for murder and arson.
Survivors, families of victims and locals came together on Wednesday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of this tragic event.
A memorial was built a couple of years after the fire in the restored building and includes an art gallery. A wonderful painting was completed by Sydney artist Josonia Palaitis called ‘Taking a break in the field’. The painting includes portraits of each of the 15 victims of the fire. You cannot look at this painting and not be completely overwhelmed with emotion at the tragedy of what happened to these young people and their families.
This event has had a huge impact on the people of Childers. Let’s hope this 10 year commemoration will go somewhat toward easing the pain.