Police sift through the burnt remains of the house.DUNKELD is in mourning after two young children died, trapped in their burning home as their frantic parents tried to rescue them.

As police and CFA investigators combed through the blackened wreckage on the historic Devon Park property, about a kilometre off Blackwood Road and 11km south of Dunkeld, there was a numb sense of shock through the community.

Georgia Griffin Wilson, 8, and her brother Kaden, 3, lost their lives in the inferno, which started about 2.45am on Friday.

The flames were so intense their parents Aaron Wilson and Tanya Griffin were unable to break into the children’s bedroom as they screamed in panic.

Paramedics later treated the parents for superficial burns, smoke inhalation and shock before taking them to Hamilton Base Hospital for observation.

Yesterday they were consoled by family and friends.

The family had moved into the farm workers’ house only a few months ago and were well known in the district.

Georgia had been a pupil at Dunkeld Consolidated Primary School and Kaden had attended the local three-year-old kindergarten.

School principal Pat Gleeson told The Standard the whole school community was in shock and classmates were given counselling.

“It’s a very sad day for us,” he said. “The grief will go on for quite a while.”

Two brick chimneys were all that remained of the 80-year-old weatherboard house as a team of police experts from Melbourne sifted through the debris. A shed and car were also destroyed.

Detective Leading Senior Constable Glen Hatton, of the arson and explosives squad, said the fire started from the lounge which separates the parents’ and children’s bedrooms.

The cause is not suspicious and is believed linked to a heater.

He said the parents smelt smoke, realised the house was on fire and ran around to the side bedroom to rescue the children.

However, they were unable to get in the door or windows and the children were unable to get out.

“They heard the children yelling out and tried to get back in to them,” Detective Leading Senior Constable Hatton said.

“After unsuccessfully trying to get in, one of the parents ran across to the other farm house and emergency services were called.

“One parent tried to fight the fire from outside, but the house was totally destroyed.’’

Regional CFA incident controller Henry Barton, of Warrnambool, said 28 firefighters from four brigades turned out to the fire.

“The house was totally involved when brigades arrived and it burnt extremely quickly,” he said.

“It was a very intense fire and the wind pushed it along.

“It took about an hour to bring under control and two to three hours to mop up.”

He said several firefighters knew the victims were emotionally affected.

“Their children went to the same school and kindergarten,” he said.

“They are distraught and have been offered counselling.”

Ambulance Victoria spokesman John Mullen said the paramedics who attended the fire scene also knew the victims.

“They have been given peer support,” he said.

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An awful loss: Bill Gordon, with grandson Benjamin, shares the community’s grief.BILL Gordon’s weathered face said it all as he pondered the loss of children Georgia and Kaden Wilson in a Dunkeld farmhouse fire early yesterday not far from his home.

His two-year-old grandson Benjamin had been playing with one of the children only a few weeks ago.

“This tragedy will be felt for a long time,” he said. “It will have a big impact on the local community and will hit Dunkeld very hard.

“It’s just an awful loss to know that two kids with their lives in front of them have gone.

“There’s no doubt the community will rally to offer whatever support it can.

“When the chips are down people here rise to the need.

“Aaron (the father) worked with me on my farm several times and was well known as a terrific worker.

“He did a lot of the gardening at Devon Park and they appreciated the opportunity to move on to the property recently.

“The kids were loving the outdoors.”

Dunkeld Consolidated School principal Pat Gleeson and school council president Simon Cullinane visited the distraught parents yesterday afternoon.

“I’m gutted by the tragedy and the great loss for Aaron and Tanya,” Mr Cullinane said.

“They are greatly loved. Words can’t describe their grief.

“They and their kids were so much a part of the school and kindergarten and wider community.”

The school’s 78 pupils were officially told the sad news yesterday morning and were given updates at a special afternoon assembly.

They were also given letters to take home with tips for parents on how to deal with trauma.

A psychologist, welfare officer and counsellor visited the school to speak with staff and children.

“We’ve had terrific support from the Education Department and general community,” Mr Gleeson said.

Dunkeld Progress Association president Doug Fleming said the tragedy was hard to believe.

“It’s difficult to reconcile that two young lives have been lost,” he said. “Words don’t explain what people are feeling about it — a horrendous tragedy.”

He said the fire would be top of the agenda at Monday night’s meeting of the association.

“We don’t yet know what the family’s needs are, but we will be supporting them how ever we can,” Mr Fleming said.

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St John’s Bowls Club will close next month. Uncertainty caused membership to dwindle, said secretary Doug Haynes.

ST John’s Bowls Club will wind up at the end of April signalling the end of an era for the 86-year-old club.

The Princess Street club, believed to be the last church bowling club in Australia, voted to voluntarily wind up earlier this week.

The Warrnambool Presbyterian Church owns the site and could not guarantee its use for another 12 months.

The club was founded in 1926 and has been at the Princess Street site since 1956.

Up until the decision, the club was the only grass bowling green in the Warrnambool district used for pennant games.

Club president Robert Prout jokingly said he’ll now be known as the president who sank the club.

“It was a reluctant but an inevitable decision,” he said.

“We knew it would happen one day.

“I’ve been part of the club for eight to 10 years. It’s a very friendly club, we all get on well but it’s time to move on.

“The church own the land and have another use planned for it. We’re a small club and it’s difficult to attract players.

“We have three members that are in their 90s and a few in their 80s as well.

“I guess for bigger clubs it’s easier to attract younger members. They offer barefoot bowls and we need to rest the grass.” Club secretary Doug Haynes said there had been uncertainty about the club’s future for a number of years.

“There has been uncertainty and as a result membership dwindled,” he said.

“It was a reluctant decision.

“The church couldn’t guarantee use of the site and it’s time to move on. It was a reluctant decision but one that everyone made.

“As far as we know it’s the last church bowls club.”

The club, which has 45 members, will officially wind up on April 30.

Spokesman for the church Lindsay Ferguson said the church was looking at its options and plans were under way to develop the facilities.

“We’re working with an architect and talking to our members on what we might do,” he said.

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THE Warrnambool Mermaids are hoping to unveil more than just their championship flag when their 2012 season starts tonight.

The side is also out to show its home crowd that this year’s line-up means business and what better way to do so than with a grand final rematch.

Newly-appointed coach Lester Pickett said the Mermaids would have eight players for tonight’s duel with Mildura.

“The majority of them were involved (in the grand final win) and they’ll be excited, which is good for them because this is their reward from last year,” he said.

“Then we need to get into it because we want to do it again this year.”

While tonight marks the Mermaids’ season-opener, Mildura started its campaign last weekend with an unsuccessful double-header, going down to Keilor (71-48) and Sunbury (80-75).

Pickett believes the key tonight will be shutting down Mildura guard Vanessa Power and American import Justina Udenze, who were the most damaging for the Lady Heat last weekend.

“They seemed to rely on those two players, so if we can try and shut down one of them and do the job on the other one, it will help,” he said.

“But we know that they’ll be gunning for us.

“(We) beat them in last year’s grand final, so they’ll play hard.

“We’ve got to have the mindset to click right from the start and we can’t give them a start.”

Mermaids newcomers Tiarna Rolph and Renee Tuck will take to the court tonight. The remaining six players were involved in last year’s triumph.

Pickett said Warrnambool would be looking to push the ball down the floor at every opportunity this season.

“We’re not a big team,” he said. “Apart from Kate Sewell, we’re not big in size and we’re not that bulky or strong, so we really have to push the ball.

“In defence, we’ve got to get up and get into them.”

The coach expected the younger players from last year, such as Olivia Krygger, Maggie Baker and Ebony Stacey, to have a bigger impact in 2012.

“They know what to expect now so they’ll need to step up,” he said.

The Mermaids will be missing talented teenagers Nicola Handreck and Annie Blackburn until the end of next month due to state commitments, while Darcy Saunders, who has moved away for university, has committed to play away matches.

Tonight’s tip-off is at 6pm at the Arc.

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Isaac Jones in action at the Australian Swimming Championships.WARRNAMBOOL Swimming Club (WSC) head coach Jayson Lamb admits he was blown away by the club’s performance at the 2012 Australian Swimming Championships.

All WSC competitors slashed their personal best times at the national titles in Adelaide with the exception of Michael Paulka, who was only 0.01 seconds off recording his quickest time in the 50-metre backstroke.

“They’ve all put in the hard yards and they’ve got the rewards for it,” Lamb said.

A highlight was 16-year-old Isaac Jones progressing to a semi-final in the 200m butterfly after producing a two-second personal best in the heats (2:03.50).

After his semi-final, the Warrnambool swimmer was ranked an impressive 16th in the country for the event.

“The 2.03 and to make the semi-final was fantastic,” Lamb said.

“Even if he didn’t make the semi, we were still rapt by that time.

“It’s very slick for a 16-year-old.”

Lamb said he spoke to the national youth coach about Jones last year.

“He’s on the radar,” he said.

“It’s just about keeping an eye on him and keeping an eye on his program to make sure he’s doing the right things.”

The coach was pleased that the WSC members all rose to the challenge of competing against the country’s best.

“They weren’t overwhelmed by it,” he said.

“For Kirra Umbers, that was her first big major meet and she handled the situation really well.

“She just blitzed her heat.

“Over 50 metres, a full second PB is pretty big.”

Umbers, 14, contested the 50m backstroke, clocking in at 31.47 seconds.

Lamb said older members Josh Sobey and Jack and Michael Paulka were keen to resume training after a break, while Melody Keath and Jordan Logan would potentially take longer breaks due to travel and university commitments respectively.

The younger members who competed — Jones, Umbers and Dylan Lee — are focused on their preparation for the Australian Age Championships in Brisbane next month.

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Hexham farmer Clare Weatherly raised $6000 by competing in a 160km challenge in Victoria’s alpine region. HEXHAM’S Clare Weatherly has taken on Victoria’s highest peaks in a gruelling 160-kilometre challenge — just two years after suffering a broken back.

The 31-year-old farmer tackled the mountains to raise money for road trauma support services.

It was the equivalent of doing four marathons in less than 48 hours including a 6000m climb and 6000m descent.

Ms Weatherly completed 100km before hypothermia forced her out of the event at the top of Mount Hotham.

“I wasn’t that happy that I didn’t complete it but that will be the aim next year. I suppose it is a long way to come from a broken back,” she said.

“It was freezing up the top of Mount Hotham, very cold and very windy up there. I’m not exactly sure how cold because they wrapped me up and then they had to go and search for someone else who got lost and rescue them.”

Ms Weatherly said she had pulled up fine from the challenge.

“A few blisters. I really want to try and complete it next year. I was doing about 100km a week in training. It is a lot of time on your feet,” she said.

“I just wanted to thank my support crew, they were fantastic. I had eight people up there with me. They did a sensational job and we raised a bit over $6000, which was very pleasing. I want to thank everyone who donated,” she said.

Ms Weatherly had undertaken a rigorous training schedule on local roads, which included the Grampians and Mount Rouse, to prepare for Mount Feathertop, Mount Hotham, The Fainters, Spione Kopje, Mount Nelse and Victoria’s highest mountain, Mount Bogong.

She suffered spinal damage in six sections after a smash at Lismore in August 2009 and vowed to help other road trauma victims.

Her injuries resulted from a spectacular smash caused by a driver believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel on the Glenelg Highway.

That driver’s vehicle hit the car travelling in front of Miss Weatherly, then flew into the air and landed on her bonnet.

She walked away from the carnage stunned, believing she was not injured. It was only later at Warrnambool Base Hospital she realised she had suffered spinal damage.

However, in April last year she put on the running shoes and competed in a six-kilometre race in June. Ms Weatherly’s biggest test on the comeback trail was on November 26 when she took part in a “training run” at Mount Feathertop on a 64-kilometre route in cold, wet conditions.

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WARRNAMBOOL driver Jamie Veal says his crew is enjoying coming up with nice one-liners to describe his approach to racing.

After leading the Sprintcar Racing Association of Victoria series entering 11 of the 13 previous rounds, he enters tonight’s grand final 108 points behind Warrnambool’s Darren Mollenoyux.

The aggressive Veal said his crew’s assessment of his drives in two of the past three rounds where his attacking style caught him out summed up his mindset for tonight.

“Win it or bin it,” he said.

“Checkers or wreckers.”

While he laughs at the phrases, he is serious when he says he can still run down the super consistent Mollenoyux in the race for the crown, which carries a $10,000 bonus.

“I’ve had a couple of nights where I have lost more points than what his lead is,” Veal said. “You can make that many points up but it depends on how you go in the heats.

“If I win everything and he finishes down the back in the feature, it would be interesting. I’ve pretty much got to win everything. I’ve even got to win hot laps.”

Veal said he didn’t regret his two costly crashes.

He said the past would not change his approach tonight.

“I just want to win. I’m not going to follow around in second, it defeats the purpose of racing. You have to try everything you can.”

Mollenoyux said he felt no pressure and was relaxed yesterday about his chances of winning his maiden SRA series.

“What will be, will be,” he said. “I don’t really have a plan, we’ll just go out there and do our thing.”

Mollenoyux, who is yet to win a round of the series this season, said he wanted to finish on a high.

“It’s definitely not over yet,” he said.

“We’ve had a couple of chances at feature race wins. We started off the front at Bordertown and we were sent to the rear and at Moama I was leading and it came down to thinking about the points instead of trying to get the win. That put us back into contention.

“While it was a hard thing to do at the time (drive for points), it was the right thing to do.

“Jamie is always consistent. I have found myself having a good night and he was only a couple of placings behind me.”

Tonight’s round has attracted 42 entries, including former national title holder James McFadden and 2011 Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic winner Steven Lines.

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CITY Memorial Red skipper Kevin McMahon has described his team’s season as topsy-turvy but all has been restored as it prepares for yet another grand final.

McMahon has incredibly played in 19 of the past 20 division one grand finals.

“The year we didn’t make it, it was a bit of a culture shock to sit there and watch it,” he said.

Today’s WDBD Saturday pennant season decider is against traditional rival Warrnambool Gold, with McMahon saying the previous meetings between the powerhouses in 2011-12 counted for little.

“It’s whoever’s in form on the day,” he said.

“They beat us comfortably both games during the year but we beat them in the second semi.

“They had a few players out of form that day and it cost them. It’s very much how you play on the day and it’s always been that way between the two clubs.”

McMahon said that City Memorial had been unsettled during the season.

“We won last year and then lost three players out of the 16,” he said.

“We’ve had a topsy-turvy year and have had people in and out and lost a few players.”

But the side produced a strong performance at the right time, rolling Warrnambool Gold 103-97 in the second semi-final to advance to the decider.

McMahon, who has played in about seven division one bowls premierships, said three City Red bowlers — Les Graham, Wayne Gleeson and Leo Dunne — were playing in their first top-grade grand final today.

“You try and help them during the year to try and familiarise them but I suppose you can’t really familiarise them with a grand final,” he said.

“You just have to go through it yourself.

“Hopefully the grand finals they’ve played in with other sports will help them.”

The skipper thrives on the rivalry between City Red and Warrnambool Gold.

“Both sides look forward to it because for years, it’s just been a battle,” he said. “It’s a bit like Warrnambool and South used to be in the football.

“We don’t take anything for granted and it will be very, very competitive on the day.

“Let’s hope we win but if not, so be it.”

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POLICE hunting a firebug have called for drivers who slowed down or stopped near a fire at Lake View Road on Wednesday to come forward after a flood of information was received by officers yesterday.

Warrnambool detectives called for information from the public yesterday in the search for an arsonist who is suspected of lighting 15 fires in the Koroit district since January 2 this year.

Detective Sergeant Lee Porter, of the Warrnambool police crime investigation unit, was delighted with the community response to a plea for the one vital piece of information which could lead to an arrest.

“As a result of The Standard front page story yesterday, Warrnambool police detectives can reported receiving a lot of phone calls from the public in relation to the Koroit fires,” he said.

“However, that flood of information has created another problem.”

Detective Sergeant Porter said police had received information in relation to details of cars which were seen either stopped or slowing down at or near the scene of the fire.

The fire occurred along Lake View Road on Wednesday about 5.05pm.

“We are calling for the drivers of those vehicles who may have stopped or slowed along this section of road on Wednesday, so that we can eliminate them from the investigation,” Detective Sergeant Porter said.

“We don’t want to be wasting time and resources on tracking these cars down,” he said.

“The drivers of these cars can help the police and the community greatly by contacting us.

“Their phone calls will be greatly appreciated,” he said.

Police yesterday urged the community to provide the one crucial piece of evidence that could lead to a breakthrough in catching the Koroit district firebug.

Detective Sergeant Porter said information and support from the community would be a key element in arresting the offender.

Since January 2 this year, there have been 15 suspicious fires in the Koroit district, the last of which burnt down Mick Harrington’s home at Mailors Flat early on Wednesday morning.

He said the one vital piece of evidence could even be something that was not seen during the recent six-week-long break in offending between February 7 and March 20.

“One piece of key information may be something that may appear insignificant,” he said.

“There was a gap in the offending and it could be something about that — someone who was not around in the past four weeks but has now returned to the district.”

Detective Senior Constable Colin Ryan said the safety of the community was paramount.

“You are not helping the person concerned by hiding them.

“The safety of the community has to come first,” he said.

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Brierly Christ Church life members (from left) Dale Mitchell, Michael Murphy and David Ryan will line up in today’s division three grand final, 28 years after being part of the Bulls’ last premiership side.TWENTY-eight years ago, Michael Murphy, Dale Mitchell and David Ryan savoured premiership success.

Today, with a strong bond forged through cricket, the great mates are hoping to once again win the game’s ultimate prize.

They may not move as fast as they used to and the grade might be a rung or two down from where their careers peaked, but the Brierly Christ Church life members, who have played a combined total of more than 1080 senior games, are as excited about today’s division three showdown with Russells Creek as they were all those years ago.

The trio played in the Bulls most recent premiership, the 1983-84 A reserve flag, and would dearly love another one as the end of their careers near.

Murphy, who turns 50 in two weeks, is adamant the grand final is his swansong.

“I had retired . . . several times,” Murphy said.

“But (son and coach) Nathan talked me into playing a few games because they were short of players. A few games turned into most of the season.”

But it’s been far from a chore for the paceman, who now describes his speed as “slow medium”.

“I just enjoy playing with mates — Mitch, Dave Ryan and Gary Stonehouse. To come back and have a year with them has been great.”

Murphy said his knees were “buggered” and he had to use his personal relationship with the coach to not bowl at training during the week.

“Normally I don’t bowl at training. If I bowl at training, I can’t bowl on Saturday and he understands that. He sees the way I hobble around at home.”

Murphy said his years of experience had taught him to be wise in the field.

“I try and get young blokes fielding beside me. You get them to chase the ball when it gets past you.”

While Murphy is set to retire regardless of the grand final result, it’s a different story for opening batting partners Mitchell and Ryan.

Ryan, 48, said he hadn’t considered his playing future yet and Mitchell, 47, said he would bat on next season.

Ryan said he loved the game and the club.

“I enjoy playing with the kids and obviously want to keep the club up and going,” he said.

“You put a lot of work in over the years and it’s important to keep the club viable.

“It’s all about the club and its survival and keeping it where it belongs.”

Ryan said the friendship between the trio had stemmed from that 1983-84 flag.

“It’s amazing that we get another chance to win a grand final 30 years after we won the club’s last one.”

Mitchell said he was 19 when he played in that flag.

“You thought we would have a few of those successes,” he said.

“It doesn’t always happen. But we all have fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you may as well play something else. There are plenty of other sports you can play.”

He contemplated how experience changed perceptions of the game.

“It’s quite amazing. As you get older you see some young blokes get worked up and animated when they get out,” he said.

“I guess we used to do that, but as you get older you mellow a bit and don’t take it quite as serious.”

The Bulls enter the grand final as underdogs, with Russells Creek winning their two encounters this season and finishing on top of the ladder. Mitchell said he was confident his side could win, despite failing to chase down Creek’s 121 a couple of weeks ago, being dismissed for 105.

“We’ve got to bat a lot better,” he said.

“We had them 6-20 but we should have got the 120.”

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