At the time of the horrific Childers Backpacker fire in June 2000, PJ Burns Builder was building Coral Cove, and a regular in the town. After negotiations between the owner of the property and the council broke down, Isis Council contacted Steve Burns asking them to meet and discuss the future of the icon. They were looking for a memorial to those lost, a complete rebuild of the Palace to it’s early 1900’s style, and a brand new, state-of-the-art backpacker to be built behind the original building.
While it would be one of the biggest tasks PJ Burns had undertaken and certainly the most emotional, they decided they were the people for the job. Steve still tears up talking about the first days onsite clearing through the personal belongings that had all been left exactly as they were when the fire broke out. He personally, carefully, bagged up the items with a hope that they would make it back to those who survived and the families of those who had been lost.
The contract on the memorial was $1.2 million. It was a heritage listed rebuild that required a lot of detail, and so they began the painstaking task of refurbishing the entire building to original but modifying every component to meet the current building code. Steve explained, “To give an example, the original handrails had to be perfectly replicated but raised in height to meet today’s standards.”
Steve tells, “The detailed metal ceilings came from Toowoomba. The lead lights in the front window had to be completely restored by a company in Eumundi. The quality of workmanship involved in the rebuild was outstanding, even today, everywhere you look, it is amazing.”
“Overall, it was devastating to think about what happend on the site, but a rebuild we were so happy to be involved with.”
“It is important for us to give something back, but also to prove to ourselves that we are capable of anything
Prime Minister John Howard inspected, toured and opened the new Palace Backpackers hostel and Memorial in Childers, and described the formal opening as a day of celebration, optimism and hope for the south-east Queensland town.
A crowd of Childers locals, school children and backpackers gathered outside the hostel, waiting to catch a glimpse of the Prime Minister on a rare visit to the town.
In his opening speach, John Howard said he hopes the hostel would again become a centre for laughter, happiness and celebration.
The Palace Backpacker is now run as a beautiful boutique motel ‘Childers Oasis Motel’. The memorial above the Childers Information Centre commemorates the victims of the Childers Backpacker Fire and is worth a visit when passing through Childers. It is a beautiful memorial to those backpackers who lost their lives, and is a space where you can feel the heart and soul of the Childers community.
Photos provided by Rick and Steve Burns, Words by Rick, Steve, Courtney and Sarah Burns.