Ash Wednesday Remembered, 40 years on

Published on 16 February 2023

Ash Wednesday Remembered panellists 2.jpg

Survivors reflected on brutal experience and loss alongside community strength and recovery during an event marking the 40th anniversary of the Ash Wednesday bushfires which razed the Surf Coast and Otway ranges.

More than 200 people from across the region attended the Surf Coast Shire Council commemorative event at Aireys Inlet Community Centre this afternoon, including parliamentarians, councillors and emergency services personnel.

Mayor Liz Pattison introduced a period of silence in memory and recognition of the three lives lost in the disaster – Ilie Mierla, Lloyd Venables and Colin Barton.

Spanning the Traditional Countries of the Gadabanud People and Wadawurrung People from Deans Marsh to Lorne, through Big Hill, Eastern View, Moggs Creek, Fairhaven, Aireys Inlet and Anglesea, the inferno torched 41,000 hectares and claimed 729 homes.

Guests heard a panel of speakers share memories of, and learnings from the disaster.

Moderator Jamie Mackenzie, with a long and recognised background in bushfire, emergency response and leadership, led discussions with panellists:

  • Bill Bubb, who was Anglesea Fire Brigade captain on Ash Wednesday
  • Pat Hutchinson, who was Aireys Inlet publican on Ash Wednesday. The pub burnt down and one if his staff lost his life after having stayed to defend his home.
  • Sharon Rawlings, of Fairhaven, who grew up at Pennyroyal and reflected on her experience of the emergency and the role her mother Doreen played in Deans Marsh.
  • Disaster recovery psychologist Dr Rob Gordon.

Mayor Pattison said Council wanted to acknowledge the significant anniversary with an event which provided a space for people to come together in memory and reflection, and in acknowledgement of the region’s recovery.

“When morning broke to the incredible and heartbreaking reality of a landscape of ash, blackened trees and homes reduced to rubble, a new definition of community spirit was identified across our region,” Cr Pattison said.

“We will never be able to measure the full social, emotional, economic and environmental impact of Ash Wednesday but we do know that the way people responded in many ways shaped and defined our Surf Coast and hinterland communities.

“It is so important that we remember what occurred on such epic scale, and what was lost.

“And that we use these experiences to help us develop and implement new approaches to planning and emergency response and recovery.”


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