Childers – The Full Story was launched on May 29, 2020. It has now had more than 400,000 downloads and has charted in over 40 countries worldwide. It climbed to the top of the Australian podcast charts and has enjoyed critical acclaim. In October 2020 it was named as a finalist in the Best True Crime Podcast category for the Australian Podcast Awards. Released as an independent production, it was subsequently signed by global podcast company Acast.
It was edited by Zoltan Fecso, who also created and composed all the original sound design throughout the series.
The initial series of CHILDERS – The Full Story was 22 episodes, available wherever you find your podcasts. Here are links to each episode through Acast:
On June 23, 2000, the Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers was set alight while its guests slept. It was the worst arson attack in Queensland history. The perpetrator, Robert Long, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on arson and two counts of murder. 15 people were killed. 69 managed to escape but their lives would never be the same. This is the full story of the miraculous tales of escape, bravery and pure selflessness by a community which wrapped its arms around these young men and women from across the world and took them in as their own.
Episode 1 – Fire
It’s just after midnight. June 23, 2000. Fire station officer in charge Curl Santacaterina is fast asleep when he’s paged to attend a job a few streets away from his Childers home. His crew, which includes Hayden Whittaker, is about to attend the biggest job of their careers. A fire which would forever change the small Queensland highway town, its residents and the lives of everyone staying at the Palace Backpackers Hostel.
Episode 2 – Sarah
Sarah Mahoney headed to Childers seeking new adventures while she waited on the outcome of job and education prospects. She figured a few weeks picking on the local small crop farms and earning a few dollars would be valuable life experience. She could never have anticipated how quickly those plans would change.
Episode 3 – Ken
As a young man, Ken Morris dreamed of packing up and leaving Wales to take up life in Australia. It didn’t quite pan out that way. So when his youngest daughter Natalie and her friends set their sights on a working holiday down under, he fully supported her fulfilling her dreams. But it would be the start of a recurring nightmare that changed his family forever.
Episode 4 – Jessica
It took Jessica Wiegand 8 months waitressing in a London restaurant to earn enough money to get her visa for Australia. And when she arrived it was everything she hoped for. Travel and sightseeing. She headed north to spend a few weeks working on the farms in Childers and had just started to make new acquaintances when her world was turned upside down.
Episode 5 – Tia
New Zealander Tia Pou had Childers in her travel plans and the Palace Backpackers Hostel was where she wanted to stay. And when she got there, it was everything she anticipated, until things took a sudden, unexpected twist. But what happened in Childers was just the start of her horrifying ordeal.
Episode 6 – Bill
Childers was Bill Trevor’s town and he led his community with pride and purpose. But his leadership would face its sternest test when the centrepiece of the main street – the Palace Backpackers Hostel – was set alight in an arson attack on 23 June, 2000. But with the help of an army of community volunteers, the local Mayor would put measures in place to ensure the backpackers were taken care of and Childers wouldn’t be defeated.
Episode 7 – Julie
Just three months before the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire, the O’Keeffe family, who were visiting from Ireland, met for dinner at a popular Sydney hotel. It was the night before their daughter Julie and her two travel companions were heading north to work on the farms in Childers and they’d never seen her happier. It was the last time they would see her alive.
Episode 8 – Mick
When it came to media spotlight, Childers was no shrinking violet, but it certainly wasn’t overrun with regular requests. Nothing could prepare it for the avalanche of media that was about to quickly descend on the town though, led by a local news crew and its intrepid cameraman.
Episode 9 – Keith
Just two days before the fire, Keith O’Brien celebrated his 22nd birthday with guests of the Hostel. By week’s end that same circle of friends would draw strength from each other as they mourned the loss of 15 young lives and questioned why there were no smoke alarms sounding as the fire raged through the Palace.
Episode 10 – Kim and Karl
On June 23, 2000, the Childers Backpacker Hostel fire was the biggest news story in the world. It would have a profound impact on the lives and careers of some of Australia’s most prominent journalists. At the forefront, two rival commercial television stations, led by the Seven Network’s Kim Skubris and Nine’s Karl Stefanovic. This is their story
Episode 11 – James
Three days after the fire a highly emotional memorial service was held in the Community Centre. It featured the full suite of Government officials, but the focus was on the group of survivors, lead by James Whitehurst, who coined the term which would become synonymous with the 15 victims.
Episode 12 – Rob
The strong Dutch contingent staying at the Palace brought a unique energy to the backpacker group. And in June 2000 they found a common bond through the love of their national football team. But the fire would tear the group apart and change young lives forever.
Episode 13 – Princess
The burden of a week of intense grief and trauma was weighing heavily on the survivors and the Childers community. The town needed a lift. It came in the form of the first Royal visit to the region in 25 years.
Episode 14 – Man Hunt
The Childers community and surrounding towns were on edge. They feared for their safety as the man dubbed Australia’s most wanted was on the loose for five days after the fire. During a violent apprehension, it took the bravery of a hero police officer and his loyal dog to bring Robert Long into custody.
Episode 15 – Krueger
The man who lit the Palace Backpackers Hostel was well known to police. He had an extensive criminal history across multiple states and had caused immeasurable trauma to a family who had invited him into their home. What happened in Childers was the extension of a disturbing pattern of behaviour during the decade prior.
Episode 16 – Guilty
Immediately after they escaped the burning Palace, a number of backpackers reported their suspicions and identified the primary suspect to police. Authorities then set about piecing together a case to prove it was deliberately lit and build a murder case against him. It was an investigation ahead of its time to ensure it would succeed when the matter went before a jury.
Episode 17 – Window
In the months after the fire, Council commenced its plan to restore the Palace and bring about some normality for neighbouring businesses affected by the June 2000 tragedy. But striking a deal to acquire the building and establish a suitable memorial to the victims was more challenging than they had envisioned.
Episode 18 – Memorial
It took just two years and four months for the Palace to be re-opened following a full re-build on the site of the exisiting hostel. There was considerable consultation with the community and the victims’ families before agreeing on what would be a stunning memorial to the Palace 15. But getting to that highly emotional unveiling was far more complex than Council had first imagined.
Episode 19 – Legislation
The Childers fire is considered the worst arson attack in Queensland history. The after effects were far-reaching with local businesses and the tourism industry taking both a financial and reputational hit. Solutions needed to be found and that started with fixing Queensland’s inadequate fire safety laws.
Episode 20 – Neil
When Neil Griffith and his University friend Nigel decided to pack up their life in late 1999 and head to Australia on the adventure of a lifetime, they were young, carefree fun-seekers with the world at their feet. But it would be a trip engulfed by multiple episodes of tragedy and trauma and a key role in the investigation into the Palace Backpackers Hostel fire in Childers.
Episode 21 – Family
The fire at the Palace Backpackers Hostel in Childers on June 23, 2000 changed lives forever. It took young men and women way too soon and caused immeasurable trauma to those who escaped the building that night. They would return home a very different version of the carefree backpacker who set off on the travel adventure of a lifetime, leaving families to pick up the pieces.
Episode 22 – Farewell
Immediately after the fire, the Childers community embraced the backpackers as their own. It made the task of saying goodbye and returning to normality even more difficult. A simple thank you has never felt like enough. 20 years on, their gratitude and appreciation of the small Queensland town they are forever linked to is stronger than ever