THE Duke and Duchess of Cambridge went to the Blue Mountains west of Sydney today to boost the morale of communities devastated by bush fires six months ago.
The couple visited Winmalee, a small community where in the space of a few hours 195 homes were destroyed in the worst bush fires in New South Wales for a decade.
They stopped at Buena Vista Road, where half the homes were lost and the street still bears the scars of the devastation – blackened tree trunks, and flattened plots where homes used to be.
With a 400-strong crowd of neighbours looking on, the future King and his wife spoke to Eartha and Peter Odell and their children Mia, nine, and Ty, six, who lost their home at a time when their daughter was waiting for an operation for a life-threatening brain condition. Today no trace of the house remains on their quarter-acre plot.
Mrs Odell, 47, said: “They were just really personable and sincere in trying to understand our grief. They were very sweet and very warm. I totally respect that they took the time out to visit our street.
“It’s a very private thing, our land. It’s very hard having everyone looking at it. But for them to come all this way to say hello and ‘I’m sorry this happened to you’ – it means an awful lot. It did not seem like duty to them – it seemed like a pleasure.”
“The Prince just said that they were very sorry that I lost my house,” she said. “He said that when my house is rebuilt they are going to come back for a cup of tea with me. Isn’t that lovely? They are really lovely people.”
Mrs Hansen, 67, told how she made her escape in her car as flames grew around her house. “There were cars everywhere. You couldn’t move. I thought, ‘Hello, I’m going to be barbecue here today.’ But luckily we didn’t.”
In a Guides hut , William and Kate chatted with about 200 members of the emergency services, charities and others who provided assistance during the fires.
Kate, wearing a £295 blue and white batik print Diane von Furstenberg Patrice wrap dress with blue wedges, spoke to fire fighters and others involved in the relief effort. After enduring heavy rain for much of their time in New Zealand, she said the couple were enjoying the sunshine.
“I’ve wanted to come to Australia for such a long time so it’s amazing finally to be here and to see some of the countryside,” she said, smiling. “And it’s sunny as well.”he 32-year-old Duchess met the Molony family, whose home was burned to the ground.
Nicole Moloney, 50, said: “She was so interested and really seemed to care.
“When she was talking to me she was looking straight at me and you could tell she was really listening. It makes a big difference for them to come here.”
After asking fire fighters from the Valley Heights and Warrimo Brigades what they did to relax, William appeared perturbed when the thorny subject of cricket came up.”I don’t want to talk about cricket,” said the 31-year-old sports mad Duke, in an apparent reference to England’s Ashes defeat in January.
When challenged to a game he said modestly: “I have a terrible cover drive.”
Then the couple went into the sunshine where they planted a summer red eucalyptus tree and posed for a photo with Girl Guides.
Kate and William laughed as the group shouted “Princess” instead of “cheese”.
They were then surrounded by the Guides inundating them with gifts before they left.
William and Kate went to Echo Point on Katoomba, one of the country’s most beautiful locations, on the second day of their tour of Australia.
The couple posed for pictures at the beauty spot and were introduced to three Aboriginal Elders, representing the Indigenous landowners of Echo Point.
They presented them with a possum cloak, made from seven pelts, for Prince George and a kangaroo skin one for themselves.
The couple appeared taken aback by the view of The Three Sisters and Jamison Valley, which, luckily, was untouched by the bush fires.
The Three Sisters is an unusual rock formation representing three sisters who according to Aboriginal legend were turned to stone.
Aboriginal dream-time legend has it that three sisters, ‘Meehni’, ‘Wimlah’ and Gunnedoo’ lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe.
The brothers were not happy to accept this law and so decided to use force to capture the three sisters causing a major tribal battle.
As the lives of the three sisters were seriously in danger, a witchdoctor from the Katoomba tribe took it upon himself to turn the three sisters into stone to protect them from any harm.
While he had intended to reverse the spell when the battle was over, the witchdoctor himself was killed.
As only he could reverse the spell to return the ladies to their former beauty, the sisters remain in their magnificent rock formation as a reminder of this battle for generations to come.
Later Prince William caused caused a moment of consternation when he stepped up to the edge of a sheer cliff face 100 metres over the valley below.
He and Kate were visiting Narrow Neck Lookout, a stunning viewpoint in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
As they watched youngsters on an adventure training course abseil down the cliff, the Duke stepped right up to the edge to look down into the Jamieson Valley below.
Showing no fear, he stood just 18 inches from the edge as the duchess stayed firmly where she was – a police officer in a safety harness standing next to her.
Damian Cooper, manager of the Mountain Youth Services Team, said: “I think he made everyone a bit nervous. He took a step over and took a look down.
“I had a brief moment there. He did not seem intimidated by the edge or the height at all.”
Tim Williams, of the Blue Mountains Adventure Company, said: “He was calm on the edge. He didn’t worry about the safety briefing to stay a distance back. He just stepped up to have a cool look over. It’s just his military training, I guess.”
Mr Cooper said William, who did abseiling as part of his mountain rescue training, was keen to have a go himself down the 15 metre drop to the ledge below.
“He said he would love to come back another time without so much attention and do some abseiling himself. He seemed quite confident and eager to have a go.
“She was keen to have a go as well, but she acknowledged that she was not appropriately dressed. She had a lovely dress and some high-heeled shoes. On another day and in a different context I imagine she would be more than happy to have a go.”