BILL RE­MEM­BERS TRAGEDY

Isis Town and Country - - Front Page - By JIM ALOUAT

THE haunting im­age of young, ashen-faced back­pack­ers sit­ting on Churchill St, draped in blan­kets gaz­ing up at the rem­nants of the Palace Back­packer Hos­tel is one that will re­main with Bill Trevor for­ever.

It’s 4am on June 23, 2000, and the for­mer Isis mayor is driv­ing to Churchill St.

“I got a call at 2am to say there had been a fire at the Palace but it was un­der con­trol,” he said.

“I was due to head to Bris­bane that day and had to be in Bund­aberg at 6.30am.”

Mr Trevor said he felt un­easy, so he quickly show­ered and drove to the main street.

“I could see the back­pack­ers sit­ting on the street cov­ered with blan­kets star­ing up at the hos­tel, al­most will­ing their friends out of it,” he said.

Mr Trevor quickly spoke with emer­gency ser­vice crews at the scene who de­liv­ered som­bre news.

“They said ‘We’ve got a real bad one here’ and that’s how the day started,” he said.

The Palace fire claimed the lives of 15 young men and women and left an in­deli­ble mark on the tight-knit com­mu­nity.

But rather than be­ing de­fined by the tragedy, the town would be­come known for how it re­sponded to it, and Mr Trevor led the charge.

In the hours and days that fol­lowed, Mr Trevor jug­gled world-wide media com­mit­ments while help­ing the sur­vivors.

“We had a lot of sur­vivors that did not have any­where to live,” he said.

“The Isis Cul­tural Cen­tre had just been up­graded so we de­cided that was the best place for them.

“The only peo­ple that could go in that build­ing were the back­pack­ers and that place be­came their refuge.”

Mr Trevor said the way the com­mu­nity united to help the back­pack­ers was heart-warm­ing to watch.

“We were very for­tu­nate to have peo­ple like Donna Dun­can get in­volved with cook­ing, and the lo­cal Ro­tary and Lions clubs got in­volved too,” he said.

Mr Trevor said the me­mo­rial on Sun­day, June 25 – two days af­ter the fire – was one of the tough­est days of his life.

“It was an emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said.

“One of the vic­tims, a Korean woman named Hui-Ky­ong Lee, had been work­ing on my farm and I knew her well.

“I had chil­dren aged 18 and 19 at the time and it just re­ally hit home.”

Once the media storm sub­sided, Mr Trevor was de­ter­mined for the coun­cil to re­build and take own­er­ship of the build­ing, which took months of ne­go­ti­at­ing and plan­ning be­fore re­build­ing be­gan in Fe­bru­ary 2002.

“We had to do what was right, no mat­ter the cost,” he said.

In 2001, Mr Trevor trav­elled to Europe to meet with fam­i­lies, in­form­ing them of the re­build­ing plans and the me­mo­rial that would re­side within.

“I thought at the time that none of the sur­vivors would ever want to come back to Childers,” he said.

“But for a lot of years af­ter, they did come back and it was be­cause of the way the com­mu­nity looked af­ter them.”

Mr Trevor said when he walked past the build­ing to­day he could never be cer­tain of his re­ac­tion.

“I can walk by the build­ing 50 times and ev­ery­thing is okay,” he said. “Then another time I walk down the street and look at the build­ing and tears roll out of the cor­ner of my eyes.”

Mr Trevor said while Childers had moved for­ward from the tragic events of 15 years ago, those that per­ished would al­ways be re­mem­bered.

“I’m im­mensely proud of the me­mo­rial and the sup­port of the com­mu­nity and coun­cil at the time to make it hap­pen,” he said.

PHOTO: ASH­LEY CLARK

15 YEARS ON: For­mer Isis Shire mayor Bill Trevor, OAM, takes time to re­flect at The Palace Me­mo­rial, erected af­ter the back­packer tragedy in 2000.

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