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WITH a clipboard in hand and phone constantly ringing, we caught up with Rebecca White at the Dodges Ferry Pony Club today.
Rebecca, the Labor Member for Lyons, and her cousin Karen Bailey are in a donated shipping container stocked high with packets of animal feed and fencing materials.
Outside, a tractor stacks hay bales high and another truck arrives filled with stockfeed and supplies.
This is one of the mammoth efforts made in the wake of the devastating southern Tasmanian bushfires.
Since the fires started pony club’s become a hub for supplies destined for affected stock down the Peninsula and over in the Derwent Valley. These women have played a huge part in this drive.
How did this all start?
Rebecca looks at her cousin Karen Bailey (check) for help – the last week’s been a blur, with both women saying the days have rolled into each other.
It seems like a lifetime a go,” Rebecca said.
“On Friday the two of us had a conversation about what we could do to help because we felt pretty useless at the time, and we talked about what the requirements would be for the farmers we knew had already been affected down there (the peninsula) and since then a lot more have been affected since, and we grew up around here so we know most of them. We figured one thing we could do is put a bit of a call-out for donations of feed.” Rebecca said.
The number of individuals and people who’ve helped in the effort’s incredible.
“Up North there’s a lady called Dimity Hurst who’s been really good at organising the Northern component, and Cressy Transport have lined up because of her involvement, and they’re here now actually unloading.”
Since Friday the pony club’s seen a continual stream of donations going to and fro. The most we got in one day was 51 deliveries, which I think was Wednesday. “I know we’ve got at least another 32 semi-trailer loads of round bales coming from the North, that the Rotary Club of Westbury have organised,” Rebecca said.
So far about a couple of hundred round bales into the Forcett fire area, and about one hundred into the Derwent Valley. On top of that are donations of hundreds of square bales.
Then there are the pallets of hard feed, such as pony pellets, donated from people and companies.
This feed’s come from around the state.
“We had a guy show up yesterday who’d left Scottsdale at 5 o’clock in the morning with his semi filled with hay that he’d collected from around his district for the 9 o’clock convoy, which we took into a farm at Dunalley. So that’s incredible generosity and a pretty long drive for him,” Rebecca said.
Another 600 bales are on the way, thanks to Tate’s Transport at Runnymede.
“We’ve even had guys from the Derwent Valley whose farms were burnt and damaged bring feed down here this morning, they had four-to five trucks, including a big semi (trailer),” Karen said.
“People have been generous – extraordinarily generous,” Rebecca said. “The farming communities are looking after each other and helping each other out.”
On the clipboard Rebecca’s holding are pages and pages of names of people who’ve volunteered, donating and delivering feed. The list would run into its thousands. When asked if their grounds could be used, the Dodges Ferry Pony Club agreed right away.
“Well done to all those volunteers and everybody who’s put their hand up to help,” Rebecca said.
Rebecca’s put in the hard yards too. Last night was the first she’d spent at home, with the past week spent sleeping at the pony club to ensure the precious supplies aren’t taken. A caravan onsite is the makeshift office and accommodation for Rebecca. Things are starting to wind down though.“It’s starting to quieten down a bit, it’s was very crazy for four days. People number and another lady’s number, called Gabbi, and they’re calling through requests for donations, so we coordinate that effort. Then people come here to collect for themselves or doing deliveries for us down to where it’s needed.
“We’re here about 7am, working away because the first convoy’s at 9am, which needs to be registered with the police, so you need the trucks loaded and ready to go. With the last convoy at 6pm, so by the time we get down to Murdunna, Nubeena or wherever’s required and you get back it’s about 9.30pm.Then it’s making sure all the paperwork’s done before going to try and get some sleep if you can.”
The number of volunteers just based at the pony club greatly fluctuates, with people coming and going. When it’s time to load hay, there could be as many as 30 volunteers on hand. A local farmer, Russell’s been at the pony club the whole time helping to load bales.
The shock of the fire’s likely not to be fully realised at this point for affected producers.
“Looking at how people have coped – there’s initial shock and people are completely devastated. They can’t really talk about it because it’s too emotional – it’s really difficult for farmers to see their animals in that state, stressed, or hurt,” Rebecca said.
“Then they went into automatic pilot mode, doing what needed to be done. I imagine the next few weeks will be pretty hard for people, once the emergency situation’s been dealt with, they’ve assessed their stock numbers and know what it is they’ve got on the ground and have to think about the task ahead and how big it is – that’s when they’re going to need our support. The landscape’s pretty ugly – it’s really black and people are probably going to find that really confronting in the coming weeks. So we’re going to have to look out for each other. But that’s the beauty of the country – we’re all there for each other.”
Not just a source of income, stock animals are also loved by the farmers who own them, so the fires have not only been financial damaging by emotionally harrowing as well.
Karen and Rebecca have heard countless stories from affected farmers.
“There are amazing stories that make you think ‘how did those people survive? Or ‘how did those animals survive?’” Rebecca said. ”I don’t think you’ll hear all of them yet, because people are just getting home. Some people don’t want to talk about it yet, either because it’s a bit raw.”
Karen’s a DPIPWE Animal Welfare Officer Karen said they’d heard of a lot of stock losses.
“There’ve certainly been a few thousand sheep losses,” she said. “In one small area there was about 3000 sheep lost on a couple of different farms.”
The full extent is yet to be seen, with sheep needing to be rounded up and vet-checked, which is a hard task with the amount of fences lost.
“DPIPWE’s helping farmers assess livestock for burns; help them with information on disposal, and destruction if needed. We’re just putting people in touch with others,” Karen said.
Producers are going to need ongoing support, with the task of rebuilding monumental.
Fencing is one of the biggest needs of these stockowners, with currently not enough to go around.
“We’ve got the food in, we’ve got the emergency feed in for the stock and made sure they are going to survive this last week; and the stockfeed will keep coming,” Rebecca said. That’ll keep the animals alive through the winter; because it’s likely there won’t be any growth until spring, with another two months of summer to get through yet.
“Fencing gear will be the next requirement and people on the ground to help the repair works of the fencing lines because they’ve just been destroyed.
“We’re talking about hundreds of kilometres of fencing that’s just been destroyed. A lot of it’s on highways and main roads; and we need to make sure they’re put up quickly because the stock is crossing the road at the moment and causing danger to cars as well as themselves. So that needs addressing rather quickly.”
That’s not counting internal fencing, with a large number of small farms and hobby farms which will require lots of fencing, with many of the owners unlikely to have fence insurance.
“BlazeAid are coordinating the fencing teams and identifying the farms who need to be repaired. So if anyone’s interested contact BlazeAid.” (http://www.blazeaid.com/page.php?id=3)
Donate to the Unions’ Fire Appeal at https://give.everydayhero.com/au/unions-fire-appeal-2013
Read more about the Appeal at https://www.cpsu.com.au/2013/01/unions-fire-appeal-2013/