By CAITLIN CROWLEY
AN ARMY of volunteers is about to descend on Queensland’s Southern Downs, ready to get their hands dirty helping flood-ravaged farmers repair fences and get back on their feet after back-to-back disasters.
Rural charity BlazeAid is establishing a basecamp at Warwick Showgrounds, welcoming volunteers from far and wide to help with the huge flood recovery effort across the Darling Downs.
CEO Melissa Jones said the organisation was hoping to have the first teams out working on fence lines by Thursday June 9, after receiving calls from the community for help.
“One farmer, he said there’s 80 to 100 properties that need assistance, he’s got 15kms (of fencing) himself that needs clearing and rebuilding,” Jones said.
“One farmer can take up to 3 months to do a kilometre whereas our teams can get that done in a week.
“If you don’t have fences to contain stock, you don’t have an income.”
She said BlazeAid was as much about repairing the mental health of communities as their farm infrastructure.
“Particularly these farmers who’ve been smashed for the last 12 months, they’re down, they don’t know where to start,” Jones said.
Many Darling Downs farmers have been hit with up to five floods in almost as many months, on the back of border closure uncertainty and critical labour shortages.
Southern Downs mayor Vic Pennisi said the cumulative affect of that flooding had increased the amount of damage and taken a heavy toll on locals.
“What’s made it worse – each time we’ve had a rain event, the ground is ever more saturated than the time before,” Pennisi said.
“It’s really demoralising when you just finish one clean up, and then you get another flood,” Agforce president Georgie Somerset said.
“It’s been a really challenging 18 months and when people then turn up just to give you a hand, it’s a real morale boost.
“They (BlazeAid) don’t just do fencing, they clean out sheds, they take debris off fences, they help on properties any way they can – it’s fantastic.”
Vic Pennisi said in times like this, he’s glad to live in Australia.
“These are the guys who should have a direct line to heaven,” he said.
“Simplistically, they’re giving the community a big hug.
“When people like this come to your community, the community feels they’re not on their own – there are people out there who care.”
BlazeAid has repaired more than 15,000kms of fencing nationwide since its inception after the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, but volunteers don’t need any farm experience to join its ranks.
“They’re grey nomads a lot of them,” Melissa Jones said.
“No experience necessary – we have a team leader who knows how to build a fence and they teach their team what to do.
“Within a camp there’s a job for everyone – no army walks on an empty stomach!
“As far as the volunteering goes, it will be the best thing you’ve ever done. It’s so rewarding.”
Georgie Somerset said it’s also a wonderful way for people to learn about life on the land.
“I think it’s a great way to build connections with the bush. So if people are interested in getting to know more about the bush, this is a great way to meet families,” she said.
Melissa Jones said BlazeAid’s motto is “we stay until the job is done” and with a huge amount of work to do, she expects the Warwick basecamp to be active for the next four to five months.
“The locals might just pop in with a tray of biscuits or something, all of that is so helpful. Often we have a pony club or a tennis club come in and cook the meal for the night,” she said.
“It just breeds this beautiful community spirit within the town.”
Their number one priority though, is reaching every farmer who needs a hand.
“I implore people to say, I need help and we’ll come out and help.”
There will be an information night at Warwick Showground on Thursday June 9th, you can also find out more at the BlazeAid website.