February 7, 2019

Black Saturday: A time of reflection and remembrance

On 7 February 2009, the worst bush fires in our nation’s history, the Black Saturday fires claimed 173 human lives, injured 5,000 people, destroyed 2,029 homes, killed countless animals, and burnt through over 4,500-square kilometres of land.

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of that day, an event that occurred very close to Northern Hospital, marked by a commemoration ceremony at The Chapel of Northern Health .

In the two weeks preceding Black Saturday, Victoria experienced a severe heatwave. Melbourne had temperatures in excess of 43°C for three consecutive days.

Combined with the effects of the long term drought, extreme fire risk conditions were created when Melbourne reached 46°C on 7 February. The wind gusts of more than 100 km per hour changed direction late in the day, causing unpredictable fire paths.

The conditions were more extreme than the conditions experienced on both the ‘Black Friday’ event in 1939 and the notorious ‘Ash Wednesday’ event in 1983. In the wake of the fires and the casualty toll, policies and procedures for managing bush fires needed revision.

The simple but moving ceremony held today saw staff sharing stories, jointly remembering and the recitation by Roman Catholic Chaplain, Rosemary Bolzan, of a poem written for the 5th anniversary of Black Saturday:


We grieve with you, friends never met.

A common bond has disaster set.

We try to understand your grief,

Though nothing said, could bring relief.


To those of us who say we care,

For years to come, will be needed there.

The smoke is all gone, the grass turned green,

Don’t slip away and not be seen.