Brett Dunlop: I would now like to introduce Dr Patrick Greene, the CEO of Museum Victoria.
Patrick Greene: Well thank you Brett and special thanks to Colleen for those words. I know how emotional she was feeling and I can understand where that emotion has come from.
I think it is difficult for any of us experiencing the high temperatures that we’ve had this week, thinking of the terrible events of just over a year ago, when Victoria was hit by bushfires of a scale and intensity never before experienced in Australia. And at that time, people not just here in Victoria, but across Australia and all around the world, struggled to come to terms with the terrible toll of Black Saturday and the bushfires that led up to and came on tragic day.
It was at that time, amidst the seemingly endless stories of immense loss – and, by equal measure, the stories of unimaginable courage and strength – that the story of Sam the Koala captured all our hearts.
Although Sam was not a victim of Black Saturday, the image of her drinking from the water bottle offered by CFA firefighter David Tree, who I’m pleased is with us today, was incredibly resonant. When so many of us were struggling to comprehend the magnitude of the natural disaster, the story of Sam somehow expressed both the terrible hardship, but also the immense community spirit that united us all at this terrible time.
As the State Museum, Museum Victoria plays an important role in leaving a legacy for future generations. We are proud to have Sam at Melbourne Museum to help visitors connect with her story and, through her, to the stories of the thousands of people affected by bushfires. Sam represents far more than her story could tell on its own, and communicates it more powerfully and successfully than any words could.
Sam’s story is also that of the thousands of people who work tirelessly responding to bushfires, particularly the firefighters who battle bushfires across Victoria every year, and the hundreds of volunteers who rescue and care for sick and injured native wildlife.
I am sp pleased that we are joined today by Colleen and her colleagues from Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter are with us, David Tree is with us, and also Mark Pardew and Brayden Groen without whom the images and video footage of Sam would never have come about and be transmitted to the world. I’d like to welcome them and also the other volunteers who were closely involved in Sam’s rescue and care – thank you for travelling so far to be here with us today.
In addition to the devastating toll on communities, there was, of course, the enormous impact of the bushfires on the environment. Over 430,000 hectares, including 70 national parks and reserves, were burnt in February’s fires. Hundreds of thousands of native animals were killed and thousands more injured, and vast areas of habitat destroyed.
Sam was just one of more than 100 koalas that were being cared for at the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter. While 65 of those koalas have recovered and been released back into the wild, Sam was not so fortunate and had to be euthanized on August the 6th.
By then, Sam had become the people’s koala. It is appropriate then, that she should now be here, at the people’s museum, where visitors from across Australia and around the world can pay respect and be reminded of the bushfires in our State.
Like Phar Lap – after 70 years still one of the most loved items in the Museum’s collections – I believe Sam will be seen and shared by generations who have been touched by her story.