It was six months ago that the Blue Mountains faced a bushfire nightmare. Today, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge helped them on the road to recovery.
The words “I’m sorry” never sounded more sincere or consoling for victims of last year’s Blue Mountains bushfires, than when spoken by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Six months after suffering the worst firestorm in years, the community is still scarred and struggling to recover.
But a visit on Wednesday from William and Kate went a long way to raise their spirits and remind them again that people, including royalty, really cared.
“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,” Eartha Odell, 47, said.
“They were very sincere in trying to understand our grief and very kind and warm and approachable to the children.”
Ms O’Dell lives in Buena Vista Road, Winmalee – a street where almost half the homes were destroyed in the savage blaze one frightening afternoon in October last year.
Last spring, Crown Prince Frederik and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark visited the region while the pain was still raw.
Wednesday’s visit by the William and Kate was just as important because it reminded residents they hadn’t been forgotten.
“People out there are still thinking of us, which is greatly appreciated, bloody oath it is,” Adrian Harrison, who lost his house, said.
The royal couple was scheduled to meet with just two fire affected families in the street but they chose to talk to many more, stretching their visit by more than 20 minutes.
Shortly afterwards, they met with many of the fire fighters who had put their lives on the line to save houses and lives. And William was keen to show his respect.
“I want to shake as many hands as I can. Everyone,” Prince William told the volunteers.
He asked about fire-fighting techniques and rebuilding.
“It must be wonderful being a part of a community that works together.”
He singled out a 16-year-old who worked the communication lines when the bushfire came to town – while his house was burning.
“Wow what a baptism of fire you have had,” William said.
Ten metres away, the Duchess was engrossed in the sheer dimensions of the disaster.
“To not have any loss of life is incredible,” she said.
As an ongoing reminder for the locals and a symbol of growth for the area, the couple planted a West Australian flowering red gum tree out the front of the Winmalee Guides Hall in Yellow Rock.
After raising spirits, the royal couple played tourists, stunning natural beauty of the Blue Mountains.
Like many tourists before them, the royal couple visited Echo Point in Katoomba, taking in the iconic Three Sisters, Mt Solitary and the Jamison Valley.
“I pointed out Mt Solitary and Jamison Valley from the lookout. She said the view was beautiful – it was amazing how far you could see,” Anthea Hammon, joint managing director of Scenic World said.
The visit will provide an enormous boost to tourism in the mountains, which has struggled since the bushfires.
“The economy has not recovered from the fires and we need to attract visitors back to the mountains … This coverage will bring people back,” Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill told AAP earlier.
Thousands, including Sydney sisters Alexandra Witting, 12, and Sophia Witting, nine, and Ainslie Zakis, 12, of Wentworth Falls, had waited at Echo Point for the chance to meet or at least see the couple.
“It was a last minute decision to come up here today – but it was so worth it. I will never forget it,” Alexandra said.
The Duke and Duchess’ last stop on Thursday was Narrow Neck, a spectacular vertical cliff at Katoomba that plunges 100 metres to the lush bush below.
They met a group of local youth group demonstrating adventure sports.
William prompted gasps from onlookers as he stepped to the very edge of the cliff to watch some abseilers.
“He took a bit of a lunge and a few people held their breath, gasped and readied their hands to grab him,” said Damien Cooper, manager of the Blue Mountains Youth Service.
“He was fine of course, he knew what he was doing. I think his military background prepared him well for it.”
The royal couple then made their way to Katoomba Falls oval where they left the mountains in a Black Hawk army helicopter. William met privately with Prime Minister Tony Abbott at Admiralty House on Thursday afternoon.