Image that will haunt Australians
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has invoked an emotional picture of Australia's "black summer" during a public state memorial on Sunday at Sydney Olympic Park.
The memorial was held to recognise the devastating toll of the bushfires that ripped through much of NSW, where thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed and 25 people have died since October.
Mr Morrison thanked fire services, emergency services and the defence services, but said today was also a chance to reflect on a "black summer that started in spring".
"A summer where the dark sky turned black and sunsets only signalled another night of terror," Mr Morrison said.
"Where the fire crashed on our beaches from the bush that surrounded them and the scorched high country that turned white and on this occasion black.
"A season of air you couldn't breathe and of orange skies that wouldn't rain and unforgettable trauma absorbed into our very beings, and of unrelenting grief for our land and our wildlife and our families."
The PM described one emotional image that was a particularly poignant reminder of what some Australians, and those who travelled from overseas to help, have sacrificed.
"Children kissing the coffins of their fathers, proudly wearing their helmets, mothers and fathers who should never have had to bury their children," he said.
"Friends who came to our aid, who travelled across the water to support us but to return home under their nation's flags.
"Families sifting through the ashes of lost homes and livelihoods, towns and places that came to embody both our loss and our strength."
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Sunday's service each death served as a tragic reminder of the horror summer.
"Each one of those is a story of grief, of profound loss, and great sadness, of lives cut short, and of families being changed forever," he said.
"To the families and loved ones of those that have been lost, and who are here today, we know your hearts have been broken over recent months and we are truly blessed that you've made the effort to be here today."
The families of victims entered the memorial through a guard of honour, with a row of 25 candles laid out at the front of the stage to mark each life lost.
Six sets of boots were symbolically placed at the memorial for the three American airmen who died in a firefighting plane crash near Cooma and the three RFS volunteers who died fighting fires.
Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were killed when their C130 waterbombing tanker crashed northeast of Cooma.
Mr DeMorgan's wife Rebekah, who travelled to the service from the United States with her two children, said the support and love she had received was "phenomenal".
RFS volunteers Geoffrey Keaton and Andrew O'Dwyer died when a tree hit their tanker southwest of Sydney, while Samuel McPaul died when a firestorm flipped his truck.
Mr O'Dwyer's daughter Charlotte and Mr Keaton's son Harvey laughed and chased each other during speeches.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the work of those battling the bushfires was awe-inspiring.
"As our state faced massive threat to life and property, brave people went out to face the danger head on and they did not flinch," she said. "Fatigued, traumatised and overwhelmed, they kept coming back, day after day, week after week, and month after month."
Firefighting crews from across the state were among the hundreds of people who travelled to Sydney's Qudos Bank Arena for the memorial.
Dunmore RFS brigade deputy captain Ian Cox travelled to the memorial from Illawarra as a sign of solidarity with other crews.
"We are here out of respect for those that lost their lives," he told AAP.