It is with regret and sorrow that I speak today, not only as a member of this place by paying my respects on behalf of the South-West Coast electorate but also as a member of the community that is sharing in the grief and terrible loss of the Cooriemungle, Timboon and Port Campbell communities of Ross and Andy Powell. Ross and Andy tragically lost their lives on Easter Sunday whilst selflessly trying to save another. Ross and Andy are heroes. They stopped everything they were doing on Easter Sunday to take up the call to go to the assistance of another in need of help. They, along with Phil Younis, are all extremely experienced and capable surf lifesaving men and volunteers, and responded to a call for help from a tourist who had been swept into the treacherous waters. This selfless act ended in the worst possible way—Ross and Andy lost their lives and Phil has been left with significant and life-changing injuries. Ross, Andy and Phil, just as they had done on many occasions before, dropped what they were doing and went to the call of another in need. This is who they were and are—people who thought of others, served their community and selflessly gave of themselves.
Today I wish to honour each of these extraordinary men, whose courage, bravery and selflessness must be acknowledged and remembered. I wish to honour Ross and Andy, who have paid the ultimate price for their courage. I wish to celebrate Ross, Andy and Phil’s heroism and the many outstanding qualities which characterise their lives. I wish also to acknowledge Ross and Andy’s loved ones, who are left behind. I was so very privileged to have known both Ross and Andy, and I can stand here and sincerely back up everything that has been said today, written about the men in the press and said on Facebook and social media. While I did not know Phil personally, I have been informed by many that he, along with Ross and Andy, were three of the most capable and experienced men to take the call on Easter Sunday and selflessly act to help another. While Ross and Andy’s final acts of courage will undoubtedly be remembered, it is their lives, relationships and character that are their true legacy. It is this I wish to reflect upon.
I met Ross and Andy many years ago through our farming lives. I came to know Ross as a very wise and giving man. At many farmer meetings Ross’s conversations with me conveyed a person who was capable, community minded, could see the importance of working together and, with innovation, helped to make the dairy industry a great industry. Ross was a very giving man and very active in the dairy community. He was involved in discussion groups for many years and strove to ensure the industry outside the farm gate was well represented by active, capable farmers such as himself.
Around the same time, I met Andy. It is hard to recall a time when father and son were not together.
It was apparent that Ross and Andy shared a very close bond—a bond that was evident on many occasions I experienced with them throughout my involvement in the dairy industry. Both men were principled and passionate. They shared a genuine love of the land. They focused on doing the right thing for the right reason.
I remember Andy as a very enthusiastic and capable farmer who stood out. His willingness to share and participate to help make the dairy industry better was inspiring. Andy was an active participant in the Timboon Agriculture Project (TAP). This unique program helps educate students in Timboon about the breadth of careers available to them within the agriculture industry. Andy was an enthusiastic mentor to the students of Timboon, as was shared with me by participants of the TAP program. In 2017 I had the privilege of seeing Andy receive the Great South West Dairy Award for the Young Farmer of the Year. I recall with great affection the positive and inspiring person Andy was. I would often gravitate to Andy at farmer meetings. His enthusiasm was infectious and his positivity was a pleasure to be around.
Many have shared with me how Ross and Andy gave so generously to their community. The pair were high achievers within the farming community no doubt, but they were also hugely involved in volunteering organisations. Both Ross and Andy were members of the SES and the CFA, and Ross was involved with Apex and very much a stalwart of the surf lifesaving club; in fact he was one of the founding members of the Port Campbell Surf Life Saving Club, as has already been noted. Andy volunteered with the surf lifesaving club for many years, and in addition to spending many hours patrolling the local beaches he helped train nippers. He has left an indelible mark on the community through his many acts of service. After speaking with many in the Port Campbell and Timboon communities it is apparent that the loss of these two men is being felt with great devastation and reaches far and wide across our whole region, and I am sure further.
Phil Younis is also a valued community member who I would like to acknowledge. In addition to his role with the surf lifesaving club, Phil has served as Port Campbell’s fire brigade captain for many years. Phil, Ross and Andy epitomise the Aussie spirit and are the types of people every rural community needs. They give so generously of their time and for the benefit of others. Our communities are so very fortunate to be blessed with people such as Ross, Andy and Phil. They truly are the backbone of great communities.
In the coming weeks and months much will be made, as it should be, of the heroic and courageous acts that cost Ross and Andy their lives. However, it is so important that we recognise how these men served and enriched their communities over many years and that we continue to do so. There is a gaping hole in the Port Campbell community and the Powell family must now carry a grief which is immense and unimaginable.
My thoughts go to Phil and the challenging recovery he faces. I offer my sincerest condolences to all who have been touched by this tragedy. My heart sincerely goes out to the Powell family and to Andy’s partner, Amber. Val has tragically lost both her husband and son, Amber has lost her loving partner and the father of her unborn child. The enormity of their loss and pain is one which is so very hard to comprehend. I cannot begin to imagine how deep their loss and grief will be. No words will undo their heartbreak or make it more bearable. Words seem so very inadequate. I offer my deepest condolences.