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BlazeAid, Helping communities recover

✦ BlazeAid is a volunteer-based organisation that works alongside rural families, helping to rebuild fences and other structures that have been damaged or destroyed by natural disasters.

Equally important, volunteers also help to lift the spirits of people who are often facing their second or third flood event after years of drought, or devastating losses through bushfires. BlazeAid volunteers work in a disaster-affected area for many months, not only helping individuals and families, but also helping rebuild the local communities.

We had the pleasure of chatting with the very busy Camp Coordinator of BlazeAid Wauchope, David Geekie who is responsible for the effective performance of the camp in servicing the community’s disaster recovery fencing needs within a radius of around 100km of the township of Wauchope.

Wauchope BlazeAid Camp Coordinator David Geekie as featured in Brilliant-Online
Wauchope BlazeAid Camp Coordinator David Geekie

The key role for a coordinator such as David is day to day organisation of the volunteers that are directly servicing those that have been affected by the disaster as well as supporting the volunteers working as kitchen, admin and tool and vehicle maintenance staff.

David is very hands on, regularly liaising with the farmers or property owners who have registered with BlazeAid for assistance. He also works closely with local community groups such as councils, showground societies and others who support them in setting up and maintaining the camp base.

It is a varied role with many responsibilities

Liaising with those responsible for the camp location is possibly the most important role for David, as the volunteers must be accommodated and looked after. The Wauchope Camp had a quick relocation recently so the Wauchope Show could happen for the first time in two years. The Wauchope Cattle Sale Yards was the temporary home and now the Wauchope BlazeAid camp is back at the Showgrounds. David and his team handled the temporary move expertly and the work continued all the while.

Arranging the accommodation, power and water for volunteers, including the camp location and or provision of vans, camper trailers, tents/gazebos and emergency shelters, is always a priority. “We have mattresses, stretchers and at times even bedding for the volunteers," David told us.

"We also ensure there are kitchen facilities and that meals are prepared for at least 6 days a week. Breakfast is currently self help. Lunch and morning tea ingredients are laid out to allow volunteers to pack and take with them so we don’t stress those we are supporting by requiring provisions. Dinner is provided for at least 6 nights a week, so resources need to be organised to provide this.”

Provisions for supporting the volunteers are sourced locally as required.

BlazeAid Volunteers Camp Dinner in Wauchope as featured in Brilliant-Online
Blazeaid volunteers camp dinner at Wauchope's Showgrounds and Cattle Sales Yard after a hard days work

BlazeAid now provides vehicles for volunteers to access worksites towing the heavy duty tool trailers

David as the coordinator is responsible for their safe operation and maintenance. The vehicles often operated in quite extreme 4WD environments not normally encountered in regular driving.

He told us, “We are currently encountering very wet conditions. One day we are climbing up ridgelines to fix fire affected fences, the next day we are crossing boggy paddocks and creeks to work on flood affected fences. It is not uncommon for us to have to reduce tyre pressures and use both maxitreads and our vehicle fitted with a winch to gain access to our work sites.”

 Steep terrain can be an obstacle for BlazeAid Volunteers as featured in Brilliant-Online
Steep terrain and weather events can be an obstacle for BlazeAid volunteers

Meeting with community members requiring assistance to assess how BlazeAid can work with them to respond to their predicament

Every circumstance is different and it is important to match the team’s capabilities (which will change with time) with the owner’s circumstances to get the best possible outcome. If this is not done well the farmer will be disappointed with the fences or the volunteers will feel they are not achieving an efficient and productive outcome.

“A key role is preparing a daily work plan that sees each volunteer assigned to a team and the teams assigned to work at a property that is ready for their presence," explained David. "This includes ensuring materials are available and the fence lines are accessible and safe to work on.”

BlazeAid also supplies well equipped work trailers containing expensive tools that need to be accounted for and maintained and part of the coordinator’s role is to put in place processes to ensure these are effectively maintained and managed.

David also conducts weekly reporting and credit card reconciliations monthly which he submits to BlazeAid head office.

Why do it?

“Like many others I wanted to help those affected by the 2019/20 fires and was fortunate to see a link to BlazeAid in January 2020, planning to attend Adelong camp for 3 days before the Australia Day weekend," he replied. "I ended up staying 3 weeks, plus a return trip. Like most volunteers, no matter how much I wanted to give, I took away more than I could contribute.

“With this trip, I will have to say I am doing this camp because I feel I should, rather than because I want to. Everyone is fed up after COVID, so camp numbers are down, donations are down and we are past the immediate urgency of the disasters so this leaves many exposed up here. I have the capacity and means to make a difference so I felt I should use those skills rather than be selfish. I escaped Melbourne early last year and spent 9 months exploring Australia and avoiding COVID restrictions so I felt I should be prepared to give something back.”

What does BlazeAid do in general?

David sees BlazeAid as an efficient channel to connect those wishing to contribute their time and efforts to help fellow Australians who have suffered from disasters.

There are some who see BlazeAid simply as volunteers helping to restore boundary fences destroyed by disasters, however David prefers the slogan: ”BlazeAid, Helping communities recover from natural disasters”.

“As such, we donated our time and efforts to help prepare the Showgrounds facilities for the Wauchope Show and even helped run the show jumping events until they were cancelled on Saturday morning," he told us. "In Victoria I was involved in distributing seed to replenish pastures destroyed by the fires and we are still doing some tree planting projects.

“There is definitely a common understanding within our community that 50% of what we do is rebuild fences, the other 50% is restoring the community we are building fences for.”

In previous roles David has managed significant operational environments and was amazed to find such an efficient organisation as BlazeAid. He commented, “Firstly, there are only two paid positions, everyone else is a volunteer so overheads are minimized. Secondly, as a volunteer, if you are registered, signed in and attend the morning muster, you will be assigned to a team and work that day with effective equipment and guidance.”

BlazeAid volunteers helping farmers recover from floods as featured in Brilliant-Online
BlazeAid volunteers helping farmers recover from floods

A typical BlazeAid volunteer…

COVID has affected this dramatically; Wauchope camp is currently grey nomads, but the accommodation and vehicles vary from tents through to full vans and from sedans to large 4WDs. During Covid they had large crews of backpackers, but these volunteers have returned home.

Has COVID affected you since we chatted with Chris last year?

“As commented above, donations have reduced and volunteer numbers are low, despite restrictions being reduced. Many communities are exhausted and many are trying to rebuild their own lives rather than helping others rebuild theirs,” David replied.

It has been raining pretty constant in the Hastings Valley, has this affected your efforts?

“This camp only reopened at the start of April, largely due to weather affecting access to flood and fire impacted fences," David explained. "We have been fortunate since then and have managed to work most days as drying continues. The work we are now doing is being impacted severely by regrowth through the affected fences, the requirement for professional clearing before we can fence is increasing daily. It is bad enough trying to remove debris from above a fence, it is much worse when it has 2m high weeds growing through it.”

Firstly, many people feel they couldn’t physically help and this is not true. Even when fencing, there are many roles that don’t require great strength or skills and there are always roles around the camp that need doing.

“I don’t have an administrative assistant available during the day, all the team like to go out fencing," David said. "We don’t have someone in camp to service our tools such as chainsaws, augers and picket drivers. Our vehicles are hard used on rough terrain and need weekly checks and maintenance, as do our tool trailers. “

The volunteers do all their own cooking, some help to prepare meals, maybe a cake or some biscuits for morning tea to give some relief, would be appreciated, all helps with the running of the camp.

David added, “Donations to help buy fencing materials would really help as some of our farmers are at the end of their financial tether and we are running out of materials to supply.”

If you are in a position to help BlazeAid Wauchope in any capacity get in touch with David, many hands make light work that is very much appreciated by the rural community.

Volunteers are here to help as featured in Brilliant-Online
Volunteers are here to help



Ph: Coordinator: David Geekie 0419 300 686


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