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Ash Wednesday Bushfire Education Centre, Cockatoo
Built in 1977 by Cardinia Shire Council, the building at 2 McBride Street, Cockatoo was a Kindergarten until 2005.
By Graham Simpson
On 16 February 1983, it served as a refuge for 300 men, women, children and their pets (dogs, cats and goats).
From the inside, the people looked out of the big windows and watched the town burning down. Firefighters made sure the bitumen roof didn’t catch fire.
In 2005 the kindergarten closed because the roof continually leaked since the 1983 fire damage. In 2011 the council decided to demolish it.
The local community protested against the demolition and said it should be a memorial to those who used it in1983 as refuge.
Heritage Victoria was called in and, after a panel hearing in 2012, the building was heritage-listed for being significant to the State of Victoria.
The community wanted the building to be refurbished to create an Ash Wednesday museum and a great resource for schools to tell children about this important part of Victorian history.
After securing $350,000 from council, $500,000 from Federal Government and $100,000 from Heritage Victoria, and after a lot of hard work, the building was opened in July 2016.
The Ash Wednesday Bushfire Education Centre tells the stories of the eight major fires in Victoria on 16 February 1983, not just Cockatoo. The information is shown as photos, with the story of each fire on touch screens. There are also TV news stories on a big screen and you might be lucky to catch a local who was there on the day.
There is a local history section about Cockatoo in the early days, and a fire safety section where you can pick up information about what to do if you live in or are travelling through a high fire danger zone.
There are public barbecues available.
The centre is open every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3pm (larger groups can visit on other days by prior arrangement).
Photos by Graham Simpson