Australian PM Honours Fallen Firefighters with Memorial Playground

Australian PM Honours Fallen Firefighters with Memorial Playground
Melissa O'Dwyer, whose husband Andrew O'Dwyer was killed while on duty as a volunteer firefighter, is hugged by a member of the Horsley Park Rural Fire Brigade in Sydney, Australia on Dec. 22, 2019. (Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has opened a playground in rural New South Wales (NSW) built to honour two volunteer firefighters who died in last summer’s catastrophic fires.

The memorial playground will be a place of peace, healing and quiet reflection but also of play, Morrison says.

Morrison officially opened the park at Buxton, southwest of Sydney, on Saturday named after RFS members Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer.

The two men were killed when a tree fell onto their truck while they fought the Green Wattle Creek fire.

They both left behind families including 19-month-old children born two days apart.

Speaking to the men’s families, Morrison said there would have been many moments of sadness in the past year.

“I hope this is a day that might have a lighter joy for you on this long road,” he said. “It’s another step in the journey, a tough journey, I know, for the families.

“This place will be a place of healing, it will be a place of peace, of quiet reflection but above all a place to play. I’m sure your dads would have loved this place,” he said.

Morrison said anniversaries could be difficult.

“Particularly anniversaries of the nature that we mark here in coming times,” he said. “But Australians will never forget all of those who served so valiantly. Our volunteer firefighters and what they did for us during our black summer.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the opening of the park represented a special day of healing and hope and of communities coming together.

She said while a year had passed the feelings associated with last summer’s fires were still “very raw”.

“I can only imagine what the families who lost loved ones, what they’re going through,” she said. “I would also like to acknowledge every single member of the RFS who is here.

“I don’t think any of us can ever forget or underestimate what all of you have been through. I’m still humbled when I think about what people did. They put their own lives on the line to keep all of us safe,” she said.

Tim Dornin