Rebuilding our Bushfire Affected Farms and Infrastructure with Blaze Aid
I grew up on the land. I have lived through a years long drought followed by incredible flooding events. I didn’t think I would be too heavily affected. But I have never seen a fire event on this scale. It’s fair to say, I was not ready. At first I am struck by the stillness in the bush here. It is quiet, eerily so. Since arriving in Braidwood from Sydney, I have seen a few kangaroos and a large wombat, but there is a distinct lack of bird sounds.
I had thought all the trees that were going to fall down would have already done so by the time I arrived in camp, about six weeks after the fires have gone out, but these beautiful large Ghost Gums are still falling. They burn from the inside out. So some trees look as though they have survived the fire, only to fall weeks or months after the flames burnt out, weakened from the inside-out by the fire and heat. While I was working with Blaze Aid we heard trees falling in the distance every day.
On my first day on site I felt these hollowed out trees could be representative of the people left here. But I was wrong. As the Blaze Aid Teams arrive at farm sites, they are presented with farmers and communities who have faced a years long drought, followed by an unprecedented fire event and finally, flooding that has not been seen in this area in decades – they have weathered three incredible natural disasters in under a month. The clean up that is required is tremendous, eclipsed only by the devastating financial impact of the loss of homes, businesses and an entire holiday season of patronage.
But from my first day on site I was stunned by the positivity that I was presented with.
Who or what is Blaze Aid?
Blaze Aid is a volunteer group that works in rural communities that have been affected by natural disaster such as fire and flood. Working alongside the community, they help to rebuild fences and other infrastructure that has been destroyed. There are currently 35 Blaze Aid sites set up around Australia, such is the level of support needed in rural areas. Additionally, there is little, or no government support driving this group they are funded entirely by private donations and in-kind labour.
The Braidwood camp demonstrates the best of our communities coming together. Meals are cooked and provided by the Country Women’s Association and the local Scouts team assist by washing the dishes. Incredibly, everyone is a volunteer. Even the people running the camp, all day, seven days a week – we are all volunteers.
Each day starts with a cooked breakfast, coffee and a trip to the sandwich station to make and pack your lunch, all provided through private donations made to Blaze Aid. Everyone then gathers for a 7 am Round Up. Teams are announced and the intention for the day is set.
I meet my team – we are rag tag bunch, not likely to all be found in the same place outside of this environment. The team consists of a retired farmer, a garbage man turned arborist, an SAP administrative officer, a miner, a retired accountant (me), IT expert and a hedge fund manager. We have all travelled to be here, no one is from the local area. My team is made up of people from Karratha, Nhulunbuy, Sydney and the United Kingdom.
We have been tasked with rebuilding 1.2kms of boundary fencing between two farms
The scene we are presented with is devastating. These past few years have zapped me of my resilience. I don’t have the emotional reserves I once did, so as I surveyed the remains of a home I turned away from the group. My tears are not what’s needed here. There is a burnout kitchen sink, a bath, the remains of a tin roof, the metal frame of an office chair, a hills hoist and the charred metal frames of two patio swings. Standing where the kitchen should be, I can see why they built the house here, the site is orientated to the north, at the top of a slight rise, in a clearing. With the green grass that has grown after the rain, the view from where the veranda should have been is incredible, from this vantage point its hard to believe there has been a fire here at all.
My heart is broken for these farmers. I can’t imagine the resilience it takes to wake up to this. Working alongside them is a privilege.
Why Are Fences So Important?
It is hard to emphasise enough how important the fences are. Without fences farmers, cannot restock or plant crops. Fences are crucial to recovery for these areas, but fencing is hard work. Its monotonous, labour intensive and requires a huge financial and time outlay from landowners. We are helping them save thousands of dollars, but more importantly, helping them take those first critical steps towards re-establishing their businesses and operations. The flow on effect in this community alone, will be incredible. But as I talk to more people I realise, we are building more than fences, we are building hope. We are helping these communities take that first step towards the future. Steps they cannot take without the farm infrastructure, steps they may not be able to take on their own.
Before we can do anything, we need to remove the old fence. Not one of the original timber fence posts has survived. Our task is to strip out what remains of the old ones, drive in new posts and run all new wire including two lines of barbed wire.
While tieing off (securing barbed fenceline to the posts) two runs of barbed fence I started to build a rapport with my teammates and I realised that while we are all very different and from all corners of the country, we have one very important thing in common. We all have a desire to help. The millions of dollars in donations for bushfire support has been incredible, but as I talked to my new workmates, I realised that the one thing we have in common is that we all wanted to help with more than just money and for this, Blaze Aid was the perfect solution.
This is a part of the reparations both on a personal level for each individual volunteer but also, from a more practical sense, for the farmer. The volunteers were also bringing custom to the town. They stay in the hotels, shop and eat here. New faces, often dirty from the day’s work, but pleased to be there, bringing a fresh perspectives and emotional reserves.
The bush is changing colour from a dull and soul-destroying grey, to mix of greens and blues, almost as if to reflect the hope brought by the Blaze Aid volunteers. From a more personal perspective, the time with Blaze Aid helped me focus on something bigger than me, something outside my daily routine, away from scans, doctors’ offices and a singular focus that has been my health over the past 18 months. To see the physical achievement of the work is enormously satisfying. To feel as though I can help, even just a little – I think I needed this team more than Blaze Aid needed me, it’s a privilege to be here.
If you are at all interested in helping out the team at Blaze Aid, please have a look at their website, here – https://blazeaid.com.au/donations/