Rural Fire Brigade Volunteers – 1

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Rural Fire Brigade volunteers in our country communities: the story behind the story

Louisa Duval Memories of Ash Blog
Louisa Duval Memories of Ash Blog-5
Louisa Duval Memories of Ash Blog-4

“At the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, bushfires and volunteering in a rural fire brigade just isn’t something you even think about.”

Meet Natasha Bamberry—Tash—who swapped surf breaks and sunbaking for making beds and chocolate at Wisteria Cottages and Heavenly Chocolate at Wyberba on the fringe of Girraween National Park on the border of New South Wales and Queensland in 2016.

Fifteen minutes up the highway is Ballandean, a small community of just 450 residents, mostly farmers, tradies and city people with weekenders. The Ballandean village is home to a pub, general store, petrol station and more than a dozen vineyards and luxury accommodation providers, and the closest Rural Fire Brigade (RFB).

Freshly minted as a member of the Ballandean RFB, Tash wears her full firefighting uniform. Photo supplied by Tash.

Freshly minted as a member of the Ballandean RFB, Tash wears her full firefighting uniform. Photo supplied by Tash.

Volunteering with a rural fire brigade:

Volunteering in a rural fire brigade is an integral part of living in a small, country community. Tash signed up after a chance conversation over dinner on Father’s Day in 2017 with some rural fire brigade members.

“We were going to do a controlled burn [at our Wyberba property] and I talked about it over dinner with RFB members. They brought the membership forms over the next day.

“At the time, I was only active female member of the brigade. But soon, two younger guys also joined, so I have other crew members my age,” Tash said.

In September 2019, Tash worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Ballandean Rural Fire Brigade members to save Stanthorpe from bushfires. She watched the fires destroy farmland, bush and four homes from the frontline.

In that same month, she also saw the personal toll of volunteering as a rural firefighter. Her brigade member, Aaron, had been fighting fires in NSW when he was called back to Queensland to help defend his own home and business at Ballandean.

A photo taken by his wife Bindi shows Aaron’s utter exhaustion, despair and relief after they successfully extinguished a bushfire threatening their home in Ballandean. Photo by Bindi Cox.

A photo taken by his wife Bindi shows Aaron’s utter exhaustion, despair and relief after they successfully extinguished a bushfire threatening their home in Ballandean. Photo by Bindi Cox.

A bushfire in Girraween National Park had come perilously close to Ballandean homes; the treacherous granite outcrops and gullies making it almost impossible to access properties by trucks. Tash lives and works on the border of Girraween National Park. With a wind change, the fire could have easily and quickly consumed her family’s livelihood, and home.

This video by the Stanthorpe Border Post shows the terrain and smoke of a bushfire in Girraween National Park. 

Every fire is different:

Older generations pass on knowledge of the terrain and of their experience to new, younger members. Every year members get training in new equipment, techniques and knowledge to fight fires.

One thing all members agree on: every fire is different.

“Every fire has unique conditions; wind, elevation, terrain, number of crews, time to get truck refills from nearby water sources,” said Tash.

“For me personally I could have a book, read it, and pass an exam on firefighting but doing controlled burns apply our knowledge. I learn from doing.”

Tash on a controlled burn as a new volunteer of her local rural fire brigade. Photo supplied by Tash.

Tash on a controlled burn as a new volunteer of her local rural fire brigade. Photo supplied by Tash.

First bushfire I watched buildings burn to the ground:

Tash had attended some call-outs to fires after she joined, but the first real bushfire was a grassfire that got into bush and paddocks around Ballandean Station.

“I attended the fire at Ballandean Station in 2018 and a shed and outbuildings lost, but we also saved third-generation vineyards, family homes and livestock that day.”

With every bushfire, there is loss and salvation. Click here for Tash’s experience volunteering in New South Wales and the ACT and how she saved a wombat.  

Support our rural communities and businesses:

I can’t thank Tash enough for speaking with me about her experiences. She also makes fantastic truffles and chocolates at Heavenly Chocolate with her family, and they offer accommodation in cabins: http://wisteriacottage.com.au/ They deliver, too!

Aaron and Bindi Cox own Cypress Ridge Produce (gourmet garlic products) and offer accommodation in cabins at their property: https://www.cypressridgecottages.com.au/ They will ship their garlic products to you, too.

Thank you to both Tash and Bindi for permission to use their photos.

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