Residents in a Blue Mountains street ravaged by fire and still struggling to rebuild had their spirits lifted by visiting royalty last week.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were scheduled to meet with just two fire-affected families from Buena Vista Road in Winmalee on Thursday — a street where almost half the homes were destroyed in a savage firestorm one frightening afternoon in October last year – but spoke to many more.
Six months to the day, 67-year-old Miranda Hansen, who lost her home and all her possessions, including her husband’s ashes, at number 19, couldn’t believe the generosity of the Royals who took time out from their busy schedule to visit her street. A total of 43 homes from Buena Vista were destroyed from the 212 that went up in the Blue Mountains.
“I was really happy and excited they came,” she said.
Kate, who stepped out in a blue and white Diane von Fürstenberg wrap dress and navy wedges, walked from Mrs Hansen’s home to the Odells home at number 21.
“They were very sincere in trying to understand our grief and very kind and warm and approachable to the children,” Eartha Odell, 47, said.
“For them to come out all this way to say hello and say ‘I’m sorry this happened to you’, ... it didn’t seem like duty to them, it seemed like a pleasure. My son made a picture for them of all his favourite animals. He heard they were going to the zoo and he wanted to go with them, I told him ‘You don’t really hang out with them’, so he drew a picture and he gave his own baby doll to Prince George,” Mrs Odell said.
A cheer went out from the crowd of more than 300, as the Royal couple walked across the road, occasionally splitting up to chat to residents and gather bouquets of flowers or children’s books for baby George, including one from Jesse Nicholls, 10, by author Jackie French about bushfires. “She told me George will like that very much,” Jesse said.
Four young girls dressed as princesses captured Kate’s attention. She asked them who they were dressed as and whether the flowers she had just been given were picked from their garden.
The excited crowd was four deep in places.
Jenni Cole from Paget Court was also at Buena Vista and taking plenty of photos of the visiting Royals. “We are building new memories now. We haven’t any photos, we lost them in the fire so I have taken lots,” she told the Gazette.
Earlier the couple had listened solemnly as Rural Fire Service Blue Mountains district manager David Jones spent several minutes briefing them on the disaster, explaining 3623 hectares had been burnt in the Linksview Rd firestorm, approximately one-third the area of the City of Cambridge.
There was some disquiet on social media earlier in the day about how few families were getting to meet the Royals. The event was co-ordinated by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
Many residents along Singles Ridge Road had roadside parties with neighbours, some bagging spots as early as 6.30am. Monarchists Louise and Bruce Carr from Buena Vista had jokingly told media during the week they would be cutting up the cucumber sandwiches and sitting on the deck chairs as the royal parade passed them by. As an eight-year-old with his parents, Mr Carr had seen the Queen near Faulconbridge train station during her first Australian tour in 1954.
Mayor Mark Greenhill said the Royals were “an engaging and intelligent couple who showed a deep compassion for what our community has been through in these last six months”.