Podcast reveals 50 interviews in wake of Childers blaze
A PODCAST revisiting the events, recovery and untold stories of one of the blackest days in the region's history has been launched.
Former NewsMail and TV journalist Paul Cochrane has developed 18 episodes of the podcast, titled "Childers", to be gradually released until the end of June.
As one of the TV journos covering the story in 2000, and for months and years after, Mr Cochrane said it was the biggest story he ever covered in his 25 years in the industry.
"I'm actually quite protective and I feel part of it," he said.
"I think there's so many people that are part of the Childers story - that was part of the reason that really made it apparent to me that there was so much more to tell."
In making the series, he's interviewed survivors, families of those who died, firefighters, police, volunteers and politicians of all levels.
"When I sat down with John Howard and with Peter Beattie - they consistently praised Bill Trevor," he said.
"That to me is praise at the highest level."
And while he spoke to ex-pollies who held the highest offices in the land all those years ago, he said they lauded the actions of Bundaberg council's deputy mayor Bill Trevor, and the interview with the man himself also stood out in Mr Cochrane's mind.
"Pretty much for most of the hour there was a solitary tear continually rolled down Bill's cheek into his iconic beard that he's worn for so long," he said.
"The pain that man has shouldered and the burden that he's carried was really touching to see and I hope that the podcast can help give people an understanding of what people like Bill have been through too."
Mr Cochrane said he was part of the Childers community before the fire and had watched the town evolve since, always visiting the memorial when he passed through.
"I thought there's a bit more to tell with Childers, and one of the things is - news being news it's really hard to give someone a platform and a voice," Mr Cochrane said.
"Your brief will be 400 words and you can't tell it properly. The story was so much bigger than what a new story or a TV story or a radio audio bite can capture.
"So I really wanted to be able to give people a platform to unlock that door and tell that story."
When he started reaching out to people involved in the fire in one way or another, he found they were very guarded and protective of their experiences.
"I am in a way as well. But as they realised that there was some common synergy between me and my role in Childers and their more deep-seated role - as a survivor in particular, or a community volunteer - there was a level of trust built up," he said.
"People started to open up and the common thread through it was that finally after 20 years they feel like they're at a point where they feel like they can and they want to tell their story.
"Any time sooner than this moment has actually been too soon. There is still a lot of deep-seated grief and trauma and hurt and pain that those people are carrying.
"But the ability to sit down and talk to someone, particularly in this format, has, they've told me, felt in a way therapeutic.
"They've got to talk about it in a way where their story is suddenly unravelled and unpacked.
"There's a number of people I've spoken to for this project who've actually never had that opportunity."
It was a hugely emotional experience putting it together, Mr Cochrane saying some interviews had the capacity to bring him to tears.
"I've done about 50 interviews. With that we're talking about survivors, families and friends of some of the 15 people who died and they are incredibly heart-wrenching stories and interviews to have conducted, but incredibly gripping and revealing accounts of some of the trauma that some of these people were experiencing as they're trying to get out," he said.
"For some, an absolute feeling of helplessness and a concession that 'I think I'm about to die'.
"Some of them actually said they had resigned themselves in those moments that they were about to die."
And accounts from first responders to the scene paint a dramatic picture of what it was like on the ground and how lucky those that escaped the building were.
"The firefighters had a brand new truck … they pull up to get the gear off the truck and then Hayden Whittaker, one of the firemen, drives into the service lane," Mr Cochrane said.
"He reckons it would have been at the most about 90 seconds. In that 90 seconds, the heat of that building melted the front of their brand new truck, melted everything inside it."
His experiences and the interviews conducted in making the series demonstrated to him just how big the story was.
"Robert Long's sentence is just about up. What this podcast articulates is that his actions caused far greater grief and long term trauma than most people realise," he said.
"And a sentence, of any length, will never actually be in a position to repatriate and cleanse those people who have been through that."
He hoped to bring to light things that the courts never heard. The trauma and grief those involved suffered.
"The court never heard from a lot of the people in the podcast who had been through horrific grief, unable to go out in public for a number of years, unable to talk about what they'd been through. Long's sentence doesn't account for any of that," he said.
To listen to the Childers podcast, visit Mr Cochrane's website, or search "Childers" on Android and iTunes.