Speech - Pinery Bushfires

Mr KNOLL ( Schubert ) ( 15:44 ): I rise today to talk on the Pinery fire that affected parts of my electorate last week. At the start, I would like to acknowledge and briefly mention Janet Hughes and Allan Tiller, the two members of our community who lost their lives last week. Interestingly, both of them were moving in vehicles around the fire, and it does seem that there was a great risk for those people who were in transition during that fire period when it was coming over. 

As I took a tour down the Sturt Highway and the Daveyston to Freeling roads, I saw the burnt-out vehicles of the people who were driving with obviously very poor visibility and had had accidents with other cars, trees or other stationary objects. They must have felt fear as the fires came towards them. I will describe the situation as it unfolded on the Wednesday. 

A staff member in my office, Courtney, has a lot of family who live in and around the area that was affected and who knew the Tiller family. She was monitoring the fire and saying that she thought it could become a thing as the conditions were catastrophic, but it was not until about 3 o'clock in the afternoon that it got really quite serious for us in the Barossa or, indeed, for the Schubert electorate. 

At that time, we started to see a cloud of smoke come across the Barossa. It is really difficult to describe, but at about half past three in the afternoon the cloud came over the Barossa. I was in Tanunda, and I had just finished a meeting, and the cloud came over in probably a five-minute period. During that five-minute period, everybody who was on the road was basically plunged into darkness, and the automatic lights of cars started to come on because it was so dark. It did look a little bit apocalyptic. 

However, at that same time the electricity went out. In addition, the internet stopped working, the data stopped working on our phones and phone calls became impossible to make on mobile devices. We could send text messages, and they were received and sent sporadically, but essentially all communication was shut down. What then happened was that all the shops closed, so anybody who was looking to buy some supplies—batteries, torches, water or basic essentials—could not do that, and anybody who wanted to get petrol could not do that either. 

The entire community shut down, and what made matters worse was that all the traffic was being diverted off the Sturt Highway through the Barossa, down through Nuri, into Tanunda and out through Gawler, as the only means of getting to Adelaide. Can I say that we should be so grateful in this house and in the broader community because had that fire jumped the Sturt Highway in any significant way—and there were a couple of spots by Sheoak where it did jump but was stopped, and for that we are extremely grateful—it would have made a beeline straight towards Tanunda. 

We would have seen a bunch of roads gridlocked because people were trying to find an alternative route from the Sturt Highway. It would have been coupled with traffic that was already trying to get home because it was seen that a serious and catastrophic fire event was potentially coming our way. Certainly, all of us received text messages to go home; indeed, even as far as Angaston people were told to evacuate. Had the fire jumped the Sturt Highway, we would have seen I think mass casualties on a much larger scale because we would have seen thousands of people gridlocked on roads who had nowhere to go as the fire came towards them. It could have been a much more horrific situation than it was. 

It is interesting that this is the third fire in three years. I was a preselected candidate when the Eden Valley fires occurred, and they were purely contained within my electorate. Earlier this year, we had Sampson Flat bushfires, and we saw the devastation when 30-odd people lost their houses. It is a community that has taken this long to recover, and now we have to start the process all over again. It is not something we need to be proud of, but my community reacts so well in these situations—we come together and we look after each other. The individual stories I have heard about people offering advice, assistance and aid and of people thinking of others in the community are truly remarkable. 

The last comment I would like to make is that we do need to keep aware of the mental health of people within those communities over the coming months. I talked to some farmers who on Friday were fine, but by the time I talked to them on Sunday the enormity of what had happened had hit them. Once again, I am very proud of the community I live in and the way that we respond, but I do not look forward to the task at hand except that it will bring out the best in what our communities have to offer.