Communities devastated by bushfires will rebuild and Australia will never forget the dead, a memorial service for the Victoria fires victims, in Melbourne has been told.

Bells sounded across Victoria to open the ceremony, and dignitaries laid flowers at a wreath to honor the 209 people who died in Australia's worst natural disaster.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said people had experienced unspeakable suffering in the fires and vowed that every year on February 7 Australian flags would fly at half mast.

Click to watch video of the fires.

"In recent days we have witnessed unspeakable suffering. We have lost mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. We have lost brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, the tiniest of children, family and friends and neighbors," Rudd said. "All these are precious lives. No words can provide solace for grief so personal. But simply know this. You who suffer are not alone."

Tens of thousands gathered in Melbourne for the service including hundreds of bushfire survivors, who were shuttled into the city from fire-ravaged towns. The Rod Laver Arena was filled with people, including political leaders, religious leaders, Princess Anne and other dignitaries.

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