Hoppers Crossing Apex Club

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Bushfire Recovery Work Party

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Seaton 2013
Bushfire Recovery Weekend
6th & 7th April 2013


Australia is ravaged by natural disasters on an all too regular basis. Ferocious storms and extreme high temperatures throughout our summer generate an ever increasing number of floods and fires across our landscape with devastating effects.

The media constantly bring images of destruction into our lounge rooms, and as a nation we feel compassion for those affected, we give generously to the appeals and we very quickly lend a hand to clean up the mess. But as the media focus dwindles and images are no longer splashed across our screens, we also tend to move on and life goes back to normal for us all.
Sadly, natural disasters befalling our landscape appear to be growing in terms of numbers and severity. In January this year, bushfires caused significant damage to areas of Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland and severe storms and flooding caused significant damage to other areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales.

This is a story of one such catastrophic event and what can be achieved with a well planned work party.

At around 3-00am on the 18th January, 2013 fire swept out of the bushland surrounding Seaton (Victoria) and in  

the few hours following more than three hundred property owners were severely impacted. Twenty two homes, numerous equipment sheds, hundreds of Km’s of fencing, thousands of hay bales, almost two hundred head of cattle and sadly, one life were lost as a consequence. As the fire swept back into the bush and on through inhospitable terrain, surrounding townships were under imminent threat for several days following. Fire continued out of control for many weeks and the district was still on high alert three weeks later.

Werribee Apex Club Life Member, Steve Ryan, through his close relationship with past Heyfield and Apex Victoria State Board member Richard Dennis – whose property was devastated by the fire, arrived on the scene just a few hours after the fire swept through the district. “We knuckled down protecting assets and putting out spot fires, in what can only be described as an extremely dangerous environment – but this is what you do for a mate”.

One of the most challenging aspects for a farmer, even for those in desperate need, is accepting outside help. Their existence revolves around being self sufficient and whilst they are always available to help others, they rarely need help themselves.

Following the fires, support agencies and volunteer groups moved into the district. Case managers were assigned to severely impacted properties to assist not only with the day to day struggles of rebuilding, but more importantly to support with the emotional and mental strength needed to carry on. Sadly, this is a long term issue for communities and when all the capital works are complete and the environment recovers, the emotional rebuilding is only just beginning.

Blaze Aid, a volunteer organisation formed following the Black Saturday fires of 2009, now have nine camps across the nation – setting up in most districts following a natural disaster. They quickly established a camp in Maffra and commenced sending small teams to many properties to help. Their first couple of weeks were a real struggle, as many of the farmers were reluctant to accept the generous offer of volunteers. It took great effort to break down this barrier and they have since made enormous inroads with the recovery.

What Richard lost during the fire can easily be measured in terms of infrastructure, stock feed and livestock – 53Km’s fencing, 300 rolls of hay and 150 cattle and in terms of stats we’re looking at 80% fencing and 30% cattle. But the enormity of what occurred takes a bigger toll on the emotional state and rebuilding becomes a task beyond comprehension.

Steve & Leanne committed to support Richard & Di for the long haul ahead, but knew they couldn’t do enough labour work to add any real value. So the idea of pulling together a work party to assist in some small way became a passion. Ensuring we could leverage best value from the exercise meant holding back and waiting a few weeks before taking a crew in. With that in mind the weekend of 6/7 April was selected – 11 weeks after the fire swept through. Materials needed to be arranged, infrastructure needed to be put in place and the administration to make this a great event needed to be complete. For what we wanted to achieve meant more than just rocking up with a bus load of unskilled yahoos and running amok.

Presentations to Apex and Rotary kicked off the project and support was forthcoming without need for any hard sell tactics. The overall objective was simple – “work hard – play hard – work hard again”. What more was needed for a working weekend away. With the thought of taking 20-30 people this was initially considered rather ambitious. What we ended up with was well beyond expectations – almost 70 workers plus catering support, child care and a project coordinator (someone had to be slack!) – 84 people in total. Planning and preparation took a little more effort. There were so many things to consider, without even contemplating the work itself - Transport, Meals, Accommodation, Funding – just to name a few of the admin tasks. But with strong organisational skills and a background in project management, the overall preparation appeared effortless.

The project had now gone from a concept to reality and momentum was growing fast. The biggest thing to do at this point was get a project lead to arrange the work and ensure the farm had enough infrastructure in place to ensure everyone contributed real value. Again, this position was filled with ease and we had someone not only with skills and knowledge in the art of fence building, but more importantly, knew the farm, understood the current situation and was committed to ensure we delivered a quality result.

In the few weeks leading into the weekend the right infrastructure was put in place, the materials were on the ground and the work to be undertaken was well planned and prepared for. With such a large group coming in, planning and preparation was the key to success.

Most importantly was an ability to fund the project.
Apex Victoria Sate Board contributed $1,000,
Apex Clubs of Werribee & Hoppers Crossing jointly ran a Bunnings BBQ and raised a further $1,450 and
the Rotary Club of Hoppers Crossing kindly contributed $500.
Additionally, the City of Yarra, sister city to the Shire of Wellington provided 2 mini buses all fuelled up and
the Hoppers Crossing Sports Club provided a third mini bus also inclusive of fuel;
so transport costs were significantly reduced through such generous offers. Lastly, with such a large group additional portable toilets would be needed.
Coates Hire donated the toilets and
the Baptist Church in Sale funded the cleaning and return following the weekend.

Many more groups came on board with the provision of equipment and supplies:
Cowwarr Football Club
Blaze Aid
FarmSafe Victoria
Shire of Wellington
Lee Jay Trailers
TS Latrobe – Naval Cadets
Steve & Leanne’s parents
Little Athletics Victoria &
Little Athletics Werribee

Apex clubs of Tullamarine / Essendon and Williamstown joined forces and took on the role of catering, not only throughout the weekend, but also the planning, preparation and shopping.

Resources came from many organisations as well:
Apes Clubs of Barinsdale, Hoppers crossing, Rowville, Tullamarine / Essendon, Werribee, Williamstown, Wodonga and Yarram
Blaze Aid
City of Yarra
Community members
Dennis Family
Rotary Club Hoppers Crossing
Corporate - NAB & PDR

So all was in readiness for a great weekend. We had a great mix of skilled and unskilled resources and this was taken into account when considering the work. Everyone was due to arrive by 9am Saturday for a briefing and then off to work they would go. A planning meeting Friday night created five main work groups –
•    Four fencing teams (6-10 per group), broken into levels of fitness, (easy, mid, hard & extreme) were given fence construction on a steep rocky hill, where the terrain was such, many parts were inaccessible by contract machinery and without such a large crew, this fence line would not have been possible in the foreseeable future.
•    One Chainsaw and land clearing crew of all remaining resources (approx 20). This team was never going to run out of work, with so many Km’s of external fence lines to be cleared along.

At the briefing Saturday morning the three key aspects for the weekend were safety, quality and having fun. We had first aid on the ground, but were keen not to use them. No crew had been tasked with a job more important than any other crew and no one was required to contribute beyond their skill level or fitness level.

The weather could not have been kinder and the crews were toiling away just after 10am – a great start indeed.

By 5-00pm all crews knocked off for the day, headed to the farm house for wash-up, pre dinner nibbles, the obligatory group photo and surprising a few ales. What had been achieved Day 1 was outstanding. The quality of the work was above expectations and the camp was abuzz with stories of events which had occurred throughout the day. Objective 1 – “work hard” – ticked off (over and over).

Following dinner, those staying overnight (most people), journeyed into Cowwarr – a small community just a few minutes down the road and settled in to their accommodation (1 star) at the football club for a social evening and let the farm quieten down and prepare for another big day ahead. In true Apex form, objective 2 – “play hard” – achieved.

Sunday morning saw another early start, with breakfast back at the farm house around 8-00am. Planning for the day was complete and crews were again broken into fencing, chainsaws and clearing. Flat terrain for the fencing gangs, except the “extreme sports” crew, who one again got a challenge equal to Saturday’s effort. This was a young and fit crew who were eager to learn, so teaching and educating them in fencing was a big part of both days for them. The chainsaw gang traversed several hills, so their day was a little more exhausting than the day before, but what a crew they were. They did such a good job, you would have thought the ground they had covered had been polished and waxed!.

By 12-30ish, it was time to knock off once again, head back to the farm house for a hearty lunch and farewell speeches, before hitting the road and heading home. The work party had drawn to a conclusion. What was achieved was beyond all expectations. And all without a hitch – no accidents, no arguments, no one went hungry or thirsty and everyone spoke highly of what they had done.

Without the crews this work would not have been achieved for many more months. The value of the contribution, as direct savings for Richard and many of his adjoining neighbours, was well above $1,000- per worker or approx $75,000 in total.

Words cannot convey the appreciation for what was achieved. Richard and Di never expected such a show of support and were blown away by the generosity of so many people, who gave of their time for the benefit of their farm and their community.

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