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Ash Wednesday Bushfire Education Centre opens

Published: 1 August 2016

Cockatoo’s Ash Wednesday Bushfire Education Centre was officially opened by Member for Eastern Victoria Daniel Mulino and Member for La Trobe Jason Wood on Saturday 30 July.

This memorial centre, built at the site of the former kindergarten in McBride Street, Cockatoo, is significant to the local community as around 300 residents took shelter in the building while fire tore through Cockatoo on 16 February 1983. More than 300 buildings were destroyed and six lives were lost in the township.

It will also pay tribute to the efforts of firefighters and other emergency services during the fires, and will also educate visitors on how to protect themselves against the threat of bush fires.

The memorial centre was funded by the Australian Government ($500,000), Council ($350,000), and the Victorian Heritage Restoration Fund ($100,000).

The centre retained the kindergarten’s original concrete slab and 12-sided steel framework, and now also features memorial plaques, historical and bushfire education displays, artworks and a BBQ and shelter. A reflective garden is also being planned to showcase the flowering gum planted by the late Princess of Wales and Prince of Wales during their visit to the site in March 1983.

Mayor Cr Jodie Owen said the opening was a moment of reflection.

“The event provided an opportunity to remember the terrible tragedy unfolded on that Wednesday in February 1983 and the devastating fire that ripped through so many of our local communities,” she said.

“But we must also look back with pride at the amazing bravery and resilience so many residents of Cockatoo demonstrated on that day and the aftermath that followed.”

The kindergarten’s roof was badly damaged in the fires and the building stood unused for a number of years. In 2011 the local community lobbied for the building to be repaired and restored as a memorial site.

Cr Owen acknowledged the Cockatoo community who campaigned with great passion for the preservation of the site.

“It has been a long journey but with the persistence of the Ash Wednesday Memorial Committee and the Cockatoo community, we are proud to be able to open this wonderful new building,” she said.

“I will look forward to watching the building evolve, drawing together local history, information and memories as a true monument to this amazingly strong and connected community.”