How it all started.
Out of the ashes of Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday bushfires came an urgent need for fences to be rebuilt and communities restored. Kilmore East sheep farmers, Kevin and Rhonda Butler were among those who lost their fences. Needing to quickly secure their 1,500 sheep, they sought assistance from family, friends and local volunteers to help rebuild their fences.
Within a week, their fences were completed – a task that would have taken them months to do on their own. Grateful for the incredible number of volunteers who responded to their call, the Butlers co-ordinated help to other farmers in the area and thus BlazeAid was born. Kevin is still the President of the organisation all these years later.
Since the devastating Black Saturday fire, thousands of long and short-term BlazeAid volunteers have rallied to help rebuild fences that have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires, floods or cyclones across Australia. Volunteers arrive from all parts of Australia, as well as New Zealand, and many distant countries.
“While retirees and grey nomads form the basis of BlazeAid’s workforce, others on touring holidays and overseas backpackers often give up their time to assist.”
Volunteers in action
Seven years on, BlazeAid continues to assist the rural communities throughout Australia. It is an independent, 100% volunteer organisation from the President down and relies on donations, either equipment or cash from the public and the rural sector to fund its operations. Over the years, BlazeAid has received magnificent support from service clubs and other groups who have purchased and presented various items of equipment. There is no financial assistance from governments. Not having any paid employees, every dollar donated goes towards assisting farmers somewhere in Australia. BlazeAid is managed by a small committee who meet regularly via teleconferencing, while its field operations are managed by volunteer base camp co-ordinators. Tools and other items are stored in trailers/containers that are located in various parts of Australia and are kept combat ready for immediate relocation to a disaster area.
Helping rebuild after Cyclones, Fires, Flooding & Drought
Since its inception, BlazeAid volunteers have worked in Far North Queensland following cyclone Yasi and more recently cyclone Marcia near Rockhampton; severe flooding in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales; and catastrophic bushfires in all states. Last year a base camp was set up at Northcliffe in the south-west and at the time of writing, there are 2 base camps operating in Victoria, two in South Australia, at Grass Patch north of Esperance and now at Waroona.
The trailers and tools that had been used at Northcliffe last year were stored in WA in readiness for the next big event. Following the Esperance fires, all that equipment was relocated and is now being used at Grass Patch. When the Waroona/Harvey fire occurred, BlazeAid was asked to set up to help the farmers with their fencing and not having any surplus equipment in WA, they had to quickly order more tools and trailers. To date, they have spent a little over $120,000 to get the base camp up and running. When the two operations have been completed, the trailers and tools will be stored in WA in the event that they will be required at some time in the future.
Learn new skills
For the past two years, BlazeAid has provided Drought Relief assistance in outback Queensland at Julia Creek, Richmond and Hughenden and in May, will again return to Julia Creek for 3 months and will also set up a camp at Winton. Unlike the normal centralised BlazeAid base camps established following fires, floods and cyclones, Drought Relief operations requires the volunteers to live on the properties, sometimes hundreds of kilometres from town. They assist the farmers by carrying out a variety of tasks including small painting jobs, sewing, fixing machinery, child minding, helping with School of the Air, fencing, reorganising cool rooms and pantries, welding, electrical/ carpentry/ plumbing jobs, clearing yards, and a myriad of other chores. The volunteers are mostly retired couples with a wealth of life skills and past professions, many of which can be used to assist the property owners.
Restoring the Spirits of rural Aussies
The impacts of natural disasters can go on for many months and sometimes years after the event. It’s so important to let families know that they’re not forgotten and not alone. Working out on the fence line with a team of friendly volunteers not only gets the work done more quickly, it helps to restore the spirits of our rural Aussies who are facing tough times.
Since Black Saturday in 2009, it is estimated that more than $25 million worth of natural disaster recovery assistance for rural people has been completed by the almost 15,000 volunteers who have worked around 100,000 working days. Over 2,500 rural families have been assisted, with a flow-on effect to the local communities and businesses. Several thousand kilometres of fencing has been either cleared, repaired or completely rebuilt following natural disasters.
Fencing is one of the main jobs required
The Waroona BlazeAid operation is being co-ordinated by Brian Carr, the Vice President of BlazeAid who lives in Newcastle when he’s not on the road with BlazeAid for about 8 months each year. Brian also set up and ran the Northcliffe base camp last year and will re-establish the Julia Creek Drought Relief camp in outback Queensland in May.
BlazeAid volunteers can also clear damaged fences, concentrating at this time on boundary fences then work alongside the farmer to assist in re-building new fences. BlazeAid does not involve itself with accessing fencing materials but will provide the labour to assist in the re-building.
How you can help
Further information about how BlazeAid can assist local farmers can be obtained by ringing Brian on 0428 984 117.
Any person wishing to donate to BlazeAid can do so on their Website at www.blazeaid.com
BlazeAid – Not just helping rebuild fences, but helping to rebuild lives.
If you are travelling around Australia, and looking for new experiences, or different places to stay, we also have a Help Out section where you can find a farmer or anyone who is in need of assistance and swap a bit of your time for a place to stay.
We currently have over 60 listings in the directory where people around the country are in need of a helping hand. You can find them all via the link below