‘Aussie Grandma’ re­mem­bers

Donna took on role of carer

Isis Town and Country - - News - By ASH­LEY CLARK

“I GOT a phone call early in the morn­ing. It was cold, it was foggy. A lady asked me to give a hand up town be­cause there had been a fire at The Palace. I didn't ask any ques­tions, I just said give me five min­utes.

“I parked out­side the court­house and looked across and I saw peo­ple with white blan­kets over their shoul­ders. I saw the smoke. I could smell it and I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Oh my god, this is re­ally bad.”

Those were the words from Donna Dun­can as she re­counted the dev­as­tat­ing events from June 23, 15 years ago.

The Childers woman played the role of carer when the tragedy oc­curred, look­ing af­ter sur­vivors of The Palace fire who were left trau­ma­tised.

“I re­mem­ber when we found out that we had lost 15 peo­ple in the fire,” she said.

“I slept on the floor that night with one of the girls who was in a re­ally bad way. I just held on to her.”

Fif­teen years on and Mrs Dun­can is still in con­stant con­tact with many of the back­pack­ers and has been given the ti­tle of “Aussie Grandma”.

“They are part of our fam­ily now. I have con­tact with prob­a­bly around 40 of the sur­vivors, prob­a­bly 20 ev­ery day,” she said.

“Last year we went to Ger­many be­cause my son got mar­ried. We met up with a whole heap of the Dutch sur­vivors and Rob, who has a lit­tle girl now, said ‘Look, there’s your Aussie Grandma’. They all send me photos of their kids. It’s re­ally lovely.”

Mrs Dun­can said this time of year was al­ways hard for all who were in­volved on that fate­ful night. “Over the years it has be­come eas­ier to deal with. But to­day is painful. It’s painful to be sit­ting here remembering what hap­pened 15 years ago and how much ev­ery sin­gle one of our lives have changed,” she said.

“Over the last few days I have been in con­tact with a lot of the kids. Their mes­sage is that they are grate­ful for what we did and will never for­get what hap­pened.

“One of the New Zealand girls told me to tell Childers: Grief is like bro­ken glass, it cuts deep to start with, but over time get­ting washed in the sand, the edges get soft­ened.”

PHOTO: ASH­LEY CLARK

AUSSIE GRANDMA: Donna Dun­can, OAM, pays her re­spects at The Palace Me­mo­rial.

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