Dear valued subscriber,
More than three-and-a-half years after fires devastated parts of the south-west on an unseasonally hot and windy St Patrick's Day, victims this week got their day in court.
For most of us, we will never truly understand the pain and emptiness of losing everything in a fire.
But Elingamite's Vicki Angus told the Warrnambool Magistrates Court this week of the anguish she and her family had suffered after a fire, started by clashing electrical conductors, destroyed their paradise and 19 other houses. She said the fire had "torn the living soul out of us all".
On that night, houses, cars, animals never stood a chance. It was sheer luck no one died.
"We are the unlucky ones," she said. "We are victims of a situation that could have been avoided if appropriate steps had been taken. If this fire was due to a natural occurrence, maybe it could have been easier to deal with."
A lump forms in your throat when you hear it, you want to pour your heart out to not just Ms Angus but the other victims. Then it's almost natural your emotion turns to anger that Powercor, which pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to safely maintain its assets which sparked the blaze, received a $130,000 fine when the offence carried a maximum penalty of $237,855.
It's unthinkable the state's power regulator Energy Safe Victoria could be pleased with such a penalty. It's unthinkable it took the fires and incredible courage from members of those impacted communities to force changes. Powercor has been forced to up its maintenance and only after unrelenting pressure the government reformed ESV's governance structure in a bid to "achieve the highest-standard energy safety outcomes for Victorians".
It beggars belief ESV, which originally laid six charges, could sustain only one. Victims of the Garvoc fire, which started when a rotten power pole inspected just months before snapped, rightly feel let down that no charges regarding this could stack up.
ESV failed them, Powercor failed them and now the legal system has failed them too. The penalty does not fit the crime.
As Christmas rolls around, emergency services are bracing for a bumper tourist season. They are worried, after such a draining year, we and visitors might let our guards down on the road or go too far while having fun near the water. There was plenty of drama across the region this week with two rescues.
The Christmas spirit is alive and well. This story about a young Warrnambool man offering to help parents construct gifts like trampolines for free in exchange for a donation to charity struck a chord. So too the annual Tarrington hay bale art competition, see the pic above and story below.
Moyne Shire's decision to hold its staff Christmas party outside its municipal boundaries raised a few eyebrows especially as businesses in the shire try to recover from COVID lockdowns. But the shire said it had no choice because it could not find a venue at short notice after COVID restrictions were lifted three weeks ago.
Last week we reported the cost of milk might be heading up, this week we profiled a dairy farming family who has successfully returned to the industry after leaving at the height of the 2016 milk crisis.
There were no winners when Warrnambool's Midfield Meats was this week fined $400,000 over the tragic death of a worker four years ago.
Great to see a group of cyclists are preparing to raise money for an important youth mental health initiative that is unique to south-west Victoria. Their photo shoot provided a great backdrop.
Warrnambool's Lyndoch Living posted a $1.2m loss last financial year, it was revealed at its AGM earlier this week.
Don't forget to check out some other stories that made headlines this week, below.
Have a great week and merry Christmas.
Until next week,
Greg Best, editor, The Standard
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