We have been lucky enough to have experienced working with BlazeAid for the last two weeks – a life changing experience. We were not sure if we could contribute but felt we had to try. Right from the start everyone made us very welcome as we set up our caravan at the showground in Dunedoo. We will never forget the last two weeks and did not want to leave. The feeling is unbelievable and is very hard to explain. Everybody is very happy and all get along so well. There are about 80 people in the camp, for some it is their seventh or eighth camp. We started asking ourselves so many questions;
Why is Blazeaid so successful? Why do volunteers travel hundreds of kms to do fencing? Why do volunteers drive their own vehicles and work for six or seven hours? Why volunteers are always on time for the 6am breakfast and so happy and cheerful? Why do the volunteers, mainly women work so willingly in the kitchen, washing the floors and cleaning the toilets? Why is BlazeAid contagious?
We thought the best way to answer these questions was to ask the people themselves. I asked three simple questions; Why did you volunteer? What do you get out of BlazeAid? What do you think of BlazeAid?
One of the first people we met was Kev Tuohy (known as Little Kev, but he had a big heart) from Western Australia. He has been here for 43 days and only takes a day off when needed. “I can offer something, and I get a good feeling by helping other people’ said Kev. “ Little drops in the bucket will eventually fill the bucket. BlazeAid is like a big happy family”. I worked with Kev, Tony (an ex glazier who had not done any fencing before but can erect a fence as good as anybody), Ann (drove all the way from Queensland) and Ray.
Peter Andersen is in his 70s and comes from Victoria. He has been doing the camps since 2009 and this is his 10th camp. “I love it because I love helping others in need, what does it cost to smile and say hello, give a friend a hand – it is the Aussie way. It is a chance to collect your thoughts and contribute while in a family environment. BlazeAid is run very professionally and each camp is like a big family. It does not matter if you are married or single, young or old, experienced or not, everybody works together.”
Tim and Peta Buller from Ulladulla are only a young couple with two little kids and were sleeping in a tent. Tim is a boiler maker and the consistent welding is making him go blind, so he decided to see Australia. He heard about the fires and decided to help. “I am a farmer’s son and know what it is like to struggle; I want to do my part. Every post I put in, is one less the farmer has to do. The enjoyment in seeing the smile on the farmer’s face when the fence or job is completed, is all the thanks I need.”
Bunge (Mark) and Debbie Hayden are in their 40s and come from the McLean area. He ripped the bicep on his arm but still managed the tool shed. “We were travelling around the country and heard about Blazeaid and got hooked”. Bunge says “Without our farmers we would have no food”. Debbie is in charge of catering including buying the groceries, meat etc. As a result has a lot of interaction with the local people and said she finds them very supportive and friendly. This is their second camp “We love being part of the BlazeAid family, helping people in need – it is satisfying”.
Lorie Enbom from Tocumwal on the Murray River, about 700kms away. Lorie is one of those people that can do just about anything, from fencing, helping in administration to mending clothes. She said, “BlazeAid is a most worthwhile organisation, nobody gets paid and there are no administration costs, that makes everyone equal. There is a sense of belonging”.
The next two couples I had the good fortune to work with for the last week, a better group of people to work with, would be hard to find. Nothing was a problem to them.
Ken and Jeannette Webb are in their 70s and come from Wauchope. “We like to help people in need; it makes the journey of life much more interesting and Australia a much better place.”
Rob and Pam Luke are in their 70s and come from Wollongong. They were heading to Queensland and decided to take a detour via Dunedoo. “We love meeting new people from all walks of life” they said “It is good to walk away and say we did a jolly good job. This is our third camp and we will go to Queensland to help the people recover from the floods”.
I also spoke to some of the farms affected by the bushfire to see what they thought of the volunteers.
Jason Abbott of “Red Hill” Leadville said “The older workers did a wonderful job and I was very happy with them. More than impressed with Wally who was going through chemotherapy but was still prepared to work beside me and the rest of the team. I also had two inexperienced married couples who were prepared to learn and ended putting up the best fence yet. Young or old, they are all good honest workers. Makes me question my charitable work. I will be going to the next natural disaster BlazeAid Camp”.
Phillip Wentworth Brown of “Eden Bridge” said that “they work because they want to. They are prepared to listen to my story and I love listening to theirs. Nothing is a trouble to them and they are very reliable.”
Rob Lennon of Gundooee Organics Leadville said “From their first day they made their kindly presence felt - for me it was as much about mending my faith in the world as it was the general work. A huge thank you to every volunteer, you are always welcome here.”
The answer to all these questions is very simple. The BlazeAid volunteers are definitely unsung heroes. They will do anything without expecting any rewards. Anybody who is prepared to put their life on hold, work all day, in the heat or cold, and quite often travel hundreds of kilometres have to be unsung heroes. They are “the pick of the crop”, the best. The Anzac spirit was mentioned a lot recently. The volunteers are showing that it is alive and well and are carrying on that marvelous tradition.