‘The day our hearts broke’: Hillcrest looks back on jumping castle tragedy through 12 months of grief and tears

Tasmania's tight-knit northwest community marks one year since the Hillcrest Primary School tragedy.

Tasmania's tight-knit northwest community marks one year since the Hillcrest Primary School tragedy. Photo: AAP

The tears still flow a year after a freak gust of wind lifted a jumping castle from the ground and six children lost their lives.

In the aftermath of the Hillcrest Primary School jumping castle tragedy, an image symbolising Tasmania’s broken heart was shared far and wide.

As part of commemorations marking the one-year anniversary, a heart sculpture will be put on display in Devonport for people to leave messages of support.

Six children died after a wind gust lifted a jumping castle and several inflatable balls into the air on December 16, 2021.

Peter Dodt, Jalailah Jayne-Marie Jones, Addison Stewart, Jye Sheehan, Zane Mellor, and Chace Harrison were among grade five and six classmates enjoying end-of-year celebrations.

Three other children were seriously injured and spent time in hospital.

“(It) is a day that is etched in our memories forever. It’s the day our hearts broke for the Hillcrest Primary School community,” Devonport mayor Alison Jarman said.

“The tragedy rocked our close-knit community, it will no doubt for a long time.”

A public commemoration at Devonport’s Market Square will be held on Thursday evening, with members of the community invited to leave a flower or message in the sculpture.

Hillcrest will hold a private ceremony at the school on Friday, December 16.

Ms Jarman urged people to reach out for help should they need it. A dedicated Hillcrest recovery committee, which helped organise the public commemoration, remains on call.

Twelve months of tears

“It’s hard to imagine how the past 12 months have been for the families and those affected deeply,” she said.

“I’m sure there isn’t one person in our city who hasn’t been impacted by the tragedy.

“While it is still difficult to process for many, it is important that we all continue to support one another as best we can.”

Department of Education secretary Tim Bullard said the wellbeing of children, families and staff who had been affected was the priority.

“It is our intention that the acknowledgement of the day is managed as sensitively as possible,” he told The Advocate newspaper.

“We continue to extend our thoughts and condolences to the families, friends, staff, and the broader community.”

Streams of people left countless messages, toys, flowers and candles outside the school in the days after the accident.

Some were collected by the council, with planning for a permanent memorial to commence in 2023.

More than $1.4 million was raised for the families of the victims.

A coronial inquest, which is yet to set a date for public hearings, will be held into the circumstances of the day.

An administrative hearing was told a concentrated and powerful “mini tornado” occurred when 39 students were on the school oval.

It is believed five of the children who died were on the jumping castle, while the sixth was struck by an object while waiting in line.

A report from WorkSafe Tasmania and a weather expert, as well as the first-hand accounts of students, school staff and emergency responders, will be amongst the evidence presented at the inquest.

“We continue to keep the children, their families, and their loved ones in our hearts and minds,” Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff said in a statement last week.

“We will never forget.”


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