Zest for life, love and laughs

A LARRIKIN, a daughter, sister, friend, workmate, soul mate — gone, lost but forever etched in our memories.

Tears flowed with tributes as more than 500 people, among them Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu, gathered to remember Katie Peters at the 100-year-old Eskdale hall yesterday.

It was 10 kilometres from the dairy farm where she was raised at Tallandoon, 100 metres from her primary school, but a lifetime away from the Harrietville firefront where the 19-year-old lost her life, along with fellow firefighter Steve Kadar, of Corryong.

The stories were funny, poignant and touching.

They painted a portrait of a girl with a zest for life.

Fellow firefighters Grace Miller and Emma Smith, part of the first female trio on the summer crew at Mitta, told stories of hardship and camaraderie, including Katie as the instigator of a blackberry fight with fellow Department of Sustainability and Environment workers that left the vehicle stained to this day.

On another occasion, “a blonde moment”, she washed her face after a hard day in the bush only to wonder why her eyes weren’t wet — one of her workmates had to tell her she was still wearing sunglasses.

Her uncle Craig Spencer recalled chaotic scenes in a household of five kids.

He said one day Katie pushed all the clocks forward an hour and then gathered the family together to watch her sister spin into a mild panic to get to a dinner date on time.

Lifelong friends Melanie Andrew, Maddy Reid and Sophie Wilson said Katie was always borrowing clothes from her mum, sisters and even her brothers.

She even handed down the borrowed clothes to them.

A friend she made in a Canadian summer camp last year said the girl, who was set to go to Geelong University and a career as a vet, overcame her fear of heights when a cougar alert was sounded one afternoon — only afterwards did she realise she scaled the high ropes course without a safety harness.

Her uncle Bernie Maxwell said Katie was simply a farm girl who loved animals.

“She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, get in there and have a go whether it was on the farm, driving the fire tanker or playing sport,” he said.

“This is a terrible day for the family, her partner Darren, friends and work colleagues.

“We need to treasure our children, our loved ones, every day.”

But each story was tinged with tears.

The crowd that spilled out of the hall and overflowed from a marquee was a mix of fellow firefighters, farmers, friends, school mates, politicians and dignitaries.

Young men uncomfortable with the formalities of a tie tugged and fidgeted, senior school students in uniform were handed tissues for tears, sunglasses to hide their grief.

As the hearse began the teenager’s final journey, the Omeo Highway became an avenue of mourners, the eclectic crowd lining the roadway to the strains of Kate Miller-Heidke’s moving The Last Day on Earth.

There were uniforms of green and blue, Mr Baillieu and his political opponent Daniel Andrews, the young and old.

But there were no dry eyes.

It seemed no one was left untouched by the tragedy.

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