Road to recovery: BlazeAid sets up camp in Macksville

Greg Dyson and Chris Male. Greg said the reception in Macksville has blown him away:
Greg Dyson and Chris Male. Greg said the reception in Macksville has blown him away: "I went into town yesterday to get chips and three people thanked me - I hadn't even done anything yet!"

At last count on Tuesday, 52 homes in the Nambucca Valley had been lost to the Kian Rd fire.

But there are countless residents who fought tooth and nail to protect their home, but lost everything else.

It does one's head in to think how many kilometres of fencing has been destroyed over the past three weeks.

And it hurts when you try to work out how long it'll take to get things back up in some kind of working order again.

It was music to the ears of many, therefore, when BlazeAid announced this week that they had decided to set up a camp at the Macksville Showground to help do just that.

The volunteer-powered organisation was borne from the ashes of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.

Since then, thousands of volunteers have worked alongside rural families all over the country to rebuild fences and other structures that have been damaged or destroyed in natural disasters.

Photo from BlazeAid

Photo from BlazeAid

"[On Monday] night our BlazeAid Committee unanimously agreed to send all what we have into NSW - such is the gravity of the situation there," the BlazeAid facebook page reads.

BlazeAid's Vice President Chris Male has just finished setting up a camp with her husband, John, in Wingham.

But she arrived in Macksville last night, and today industriously went about setting up a drop-in centre at the Dining Hall at the Showground.

Only a handful of people have come through the doors on Day 1 for help, but their need was clear, with usually stoic sorts plainly wearing their distress on their face.

They've been embraced with open arms and have left looking a little lighter.

At the moment it's really important that we get affected farmers to register. They can often be a proud bunch, but we need them to put aside their pride because everyone needs a little help now and then - especially after something like this happens.

Chris Male

In fact, she's the first to admit she needed help.

"I'm from Gippsland, and down in Wingham I've had people ringing me up saying they're from Rainbow Flat - it sounds like a lovely place but I have no idea where it is," she said.

So she put a call out to any locals willing to be trained up as camp coordinators. And South West Rocks man, Greg Dyson, answered.

Greg and his wife have been doing laps of Australia over the past six years, and during that time have volunteered their services at six different BlazeAid camps in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Greg's worked on the land and knows fences. He also worked on the Kempsey Council for many years so he knows Local Government.

At one property up in Qld he worked on a sheep station with a topography that resembled the ABC logo on steroids. He managed to "knit" with wire a stock containment fence together with such precision that the farmer called his wife out to admire the work.

"They both just stood there and cried. Then I cried. That's why I do this," he said.

"One farmer asked me why I volunteer when I could make money out of building fences, and I said 'I'm selfish'. When he didn't understand I said 'I'm selfish because I want you to remain on the land and grow the beautiful food that I get to eat every day'."

Greg said while building fences is the visible work the BlazeAid volunteers do, their number one priority is the mental welfare of the farmers themselves.

"If volunteers do four hours talking with the farmer or his wife and only two hours fencing, then that's a job well done as far as I'm concerned," he said.

People need to know there's a community behind them here that loves them.

But fences are certainly important too. When farmers come to register they fill out a form which details the size and shape of their property, and the lie of the land.

They then fill out another form which entitles them to a $5000 voucher which must be spent on locally-sourced supplies. Greg said the approval process usually only takes three to four days.

Once the landholder purchases supplies, a team of usually four volunteers will be organised to come out to help build.

Stock containment fences are top priority, then boundary fences will be looked at after that, and much later down the line volunteers will help with internals.

Photo from BlazeAid

Photo from BlazeAid

"Sometimes people worry if they don't come in early enough they're going to miss out - but we'll be here for however long we're needed, months and months. We're not going anywhere," Chris said.

She said, over the course of the camp, an average of 500 volunteers will come through - most of them grey nomads who can stay at the Showground for free.

But she's hoping to inspire some young people to sign up as volunteers too, and would love for schools with agricultural studies students to get in touch.

Volunteers usually carpool to site and fuel costs are reimbursed. Shifts are generally geared towards individual capabilities and energy-levels.

"If you can only manage a four-hour shift, then that's ok. We don't want you to work longer and be stuffed for the next day," she said.

All volunteers get a lovingly cooked two-course meal for dinner. BlazeAid volunteers can jump on board with cooking if needed, but Chris is hopeful that local community groups might like to volunteer their special talents too.

Any landholders needing a hand, or volunteers willing to give one, can call Greg on 0409 926 225, or head on down to the Dining Hall at the Showground for a friendly face-to-face.

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