Prince William meets bushfire survivors

Prince William meets bushfire survivors

21 January 2010

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By Jean Edwards

Prince William has been travelling to townships north of Melbourne today, meeting survivors of last year’s bushfires on the final full day of his Australian visit.

The Prince’s visit comes just two weeks before the first anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires that killed 173 people.

This morning the Prince was greeted by a large crowd of enthusiastic well-wishers outside the Whittlesea community centre.

Whittlesea resident Natasha Skehan says the visit means a lot to her.

“It’s quite amazing actually,” she said.

“The royals are coming here to Whittlesea.

“I think it lifts everyone’s spirits and puts a smile on your face.

“And that’s what it’s all about these days. I think we realised that after last year.”

85-year-old Louis Murray lost her grandson, his wife and their two children in the fires, but she is delighted the Prince wore a yellow ribbon to remember those who died.

“He shook my hand and asked me how I was,” Ms Murray said.

“I didn’t have a chance for much conversation at all but it was lovely.

“I won’t wash my hand for a week.”


After leaving Whittlesea, Prince William travelled to Flowerdale.

He was the guest of honour at a barbeque lunch, and chatted with locals under a marquee next to a block of temporary housing for those who lost their homes last February.

Having the Prince in Flowerdale for a barbeque was an overwhelming experience for local Leila Pitt-Wood.

“He’s gorgeous, he’s absolutely gorgeous,” Ms Pitt-Wood said.

“It’s just a privilege to be sitting at a table with him, you know.

“We chatted and everything but it’s so overwhelming to have him here.

“He’s so nice and down to earth.

“He’s not what I expected.

“We sat at his official table, we the village people.”

Nearby Australian cricketers, including Brett Lee and Matthew Hayden, enjoyed a game of cricket with some of the children.

Local Norm Berndt, who is still trying to fix his farm a year after the fires, says he was impressed by Prince William’s compassion.

“I was really impressed that he was going to come out and see the people of Flowerdale because Flowerdale is a forgotten township,” Mr Berndt said.

“Nobody comes, they talk about Marysville and they talk about Kinglake but we lost 12 people here and we were completely burnt out.

“Flowerdale now hardly exists there’s that many houses that were burnt.”

Melbourne residents will get a chance to see the second-in-line to the British throne when he arrives at Government House this afternoon.

There he will deliver a speech at an Australia Day reception hosted by the Governor of Victoria, David de Kretser.

Republicans sceptical

Republicans say Prince William’s visit to Victoria is unlikely to achieve anything substantial.

The Victorian convener of the Australian Republican Movement, Simon Bateman, says Prince William’s visit has generated a lot of breathless media coverage.

“It seems to be lots more a cult of celebrity than anything else,” Mr Bateman said.

“I mean we had a lot of media when Paris Hilton was here too, so I am not sure what it [the trip] means.

“It doesn’t really mean much in terms of how we live and are as Australians.”

The Australian Republic Movement has also criticised the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, over his planned meeting with Prince William.

Prince William will meet with the Premier, who is an avowed republican, later this morning.

Mr Bateman has questioned Mr Brumby’s motives.

“I think he [John Brumby] is playing pretty much the game of ‘How can I milk this and get popularity out of it?'” Mr Bateman said.

But Mr Brumby says Prince William’s support is of great comfort to bushfire survivors.

“It’s part of the rebuilding process, and it’s a long process,” Mr Brumby said.

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