BlazeAid Ebor gets to work

BlazeAid volunteer John Turnbull (JT) next to his home away from home
BlazeAid volunteer John Turnbull (JT) next to his home away from home

The coordinator of the BlazeAid camp at Ebor, Tony Samuel, has been at home with his wife for only seven days of the last seven months.

Like several of the grey nomads who've signed up to rebuild fences damaged by the Bees Nest fire, Tony came to Ebor straight from spending five months at the Inverell BlazeAid camp, which began soon after devastating fires hit Tingha.

Queenslanders Chris Brighton and her husband (also called Chris Brighton) were at Inverell too and are now on their seventh BlazeAid camp.

"We almost got home," Chris said. "We'd got to Texas when Tony phoned us."

At each camp, her husband goes out fencing and she takes on cleaning and food preparation roles.

That's a tougher gig than usual this time.

Chris Brighton in the BlazeAid Ebor camp kitchen

Chris Brighton in the BlazeAid Ebor camp kitchen

The Inverell camp had a full commercial kitchen, and a roster of local community groups who took turns to rock up and cook an evening meal for 40 hungry, hard-working people.

In comparison, the facilities at the Ebor sportsground are fairly basic - a domestic style stovetop with four burners and a grill, a very small oven and a microwave.

At the moment, there's only 20 volunteers at the camp and they're self-catering, but as the numbers ramp up to the normal contingent, Tony (and no doubt Chris!) hopes people from the larger centres of Dorrigo or Armidale might start bringing supplies of precooked food.

"Forty in the camp is a good number," Tony said. "We've got seven trailers with gear for four people, so 28 going out every day.

"Then you've got to have some in camp because the workshop is forever fixing and sharpening chainsaws and post drivers and all that. And we've got a tractor with a big post driver and there's a crew of two or three on it."

Wal Branson in the workshop with the tools

Wal Branson in the workshop with the tools

Two teams started work on Wednesday at a property near Tyringham.

"They've been pulling down some really long fence lines out there," Tony said.

With about 30 property owners registered so far, and volunteers still rolling into camp, Tony reckons that by next week he'll be dispatching six or seven teams each day.

Ebor camp coordinator Tony Samuel with one of the combat-ready trailers carrying $20,000 worth of fencing gear

Ebor camp coordinator Tony Samuel with one of the combat-ready trailers carrying $20,000 worth of fencing gear

As camp coordinator, he's in charge of logistics and liaisons, a role he finds not dissimilar to his pre-retirement work.

"I had my own glass business. We had a staff of 11 and nine trucks on the road. So I don't find running this any different to running a business.

"My job is to set the camp up and make it run smoothly. I go out and talk to the property owners, make sure the materials are there, work out what we can donate to them and what they'll supply themselves."

Tony started working with BlazeAid after discovering that retirement didn't suit him.

"You get tired of sitting around in the lounge chair," he said. "You can only mow the lawn so many times."

His wife, who looks after their grandchildren, encouraged him because he was doing something for other people.

"She said, 'If you were away that long and you were only on holidays, I'd be very cranky'."

The tractor that one of the volunteers brought along

The tractor that one of the volunteers brought along

Another volunteer who shifted from the Inverell camp is John Turnbull (JT) from Tamworth.

He's got familial ties around Ebor as his great-great-grandfather settled on a property nearby called 'Kutupna' in 1886.

"I don't know most of my relatives in this part of the world, but I'm going to be here for some time so I hope to catch up with them," he said.

A former Fisheries officer, he's now on his fifth BlazeAid camp.

Asked what attracts him to BlazeAid, John said it's very rewarding despite being hard work and the other volunteers become like an extended family.

He also loves helping people in their hour of need.

"It's empathy for the farmers. I came from the land and we went through quite a few floods when I was a kid.

"I empathise with these poor buggers, in that they get drought and then they get a fire that burns fences, livestock, machinery, sheds, haystacks - all sorts of things just totally destroyed.

"I think that's the reason why all of us are here."

  • To register your property for fencing assistance, drop into the Ebor sportsground to fill out a form.
  • For more information, see blazeaid.com.au/how-to-get-fencing-help/ or contact camp coordinator Tony Samuel on 0407 583 544.
  • For information on how to donate to BlazeAid, which is a registered charity, see blazeaid.com.au/donations/