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The Macksville students rebuilding fences and hope for the future

One gripe that came out of the Bushfire Community Recovery Meeting last week in Bowraville was the lack of young hands being raised to help with the clean up.

"Most of our volunteers are 60 plus. Where are all the fit young people?" BlazeAid Coordinator Greg Dyson said.

Well there's a dozen or so young guns out in South Arm at the moment who are working hard to rebuild fences and faith in their generation.

For the past two weeks Primary Industries students from Macksville High have been volunteering their skills and their brawn to pull down charcoaled fencing and drive in new posts at the Perks' farm along South Arm Rd.

Darryl and Terry-Anne Perks thankfully live in town, because that Friday the firestorm tore through their acreage where they're currently keeping about 70 head of stock.

Darryl said he's seen the Frying Pan (the mountain opposite) go up in flames regularly enough, but the pastures burning - that's a first.

"My tractors all got cooked, and about five kilometres of fencing is gone," he said.

His property straddles both sides of South Arm Rd, and McHughs Creek, meaning all of that five kilometres of fencing is for keeping his cattle in.

"They're being kept nearby, but they're all wanting to go home now," he said.

Without his tractor he can't use the post driver he's got, making the work of rebuilding the fencing a painfully slow process.

And Darryl is no spring chicken anymore.

So it was just as well that Terry Argent approached him and offered the vigour of a dozen eager student volunteers.

This means a hell of a lot to me ... a hell of a lot.

Darryl Perks

"At that meeting people wanted to know where all the young people were. Well this goes to show that not all of them are 'lazy'. Some are just disoriented - they don't know what to do."

Teacher Luke Smith hatched the idea just after the fire front had passed though, and, with the help of Primary Industries teacher Terry, set about organising the kids to volunteer their services with BlazeAid.

Science teacher Luke Smith, Darryl Perks and Primary Industries teacher Terry Argent

Science teacher Luke Smith, Darryl Perks and Primary Industries teacher Terry Argent

Luke said the situation was a win-win, with fire-affected farmers getting a helping hand, and the students clocking up some hours for their courses while getting some real-world experience.

"It's good for them to come out and see that even though there's a disaster the farmers are still in good spirits and appreciate the help," he said.

It's building pride in themselves.

"And it's showing them that if they help out, then later on down the line if they need the help, people will come."

To prove the point, as soon as the local community heard what Terry, Luke and the kids were doing, people were bending over backwards to assist them.

The Bowra Hotel lent the school a mini bus to transport the kids to and fro, and Tony Fuller has organised steel posts, strainer posts and wire, while Joe Mitchell has been out cutting wooden posts to size.

On Thursday two weeks ago, about eight young fellas worked through scorching conditions to bring down about two kilometres of burnt fencing on a 60 degree incline.

"They left with black faces, puffed and sweating, but loved it and said they'd be back," Terry said.

Ethan Joyce is about to go into Year 12 and was keen to lend a hand.

It's pretty confronting to see the devastation with your own eyes. But I feel good about myself when I'm out here, and to talk with Darryl and hear that we're saving this guy four weeks worth of work makes it worth it.

Ethan Joyce

"I've done a bit of fencing but I've never pulled one apart before, so this is good experience."

Then last Thursday the Macksville kids were back for more, this time with three girls.

"We actually had about 16 wanting to come, but we had to knock a few back because they didn't have signed permission slips," Terry said.

April, Corinne and Paige

April, Corinne and Paige

Corinne McFadyen heard about the opportunity to volunteer the day before and made sure she was on the bus at 7am the next morning.

Her own family's property in Utungun was one of those that came under attack, and they lost about $75,000 worth of fencing.

"Since our place got burnt I sorta realised that everyone needs help," she said.

"It makes me feel good helping out 'cos I know what they're going through. We appreciate BlazeAid coming out to our place."

Paige Mesiti was also out last Thursday when the team erected a few hundred metres of new fencing under the guidance of BlazeAid volunteer and Scotts Head local Chris Mattick.

"We're just outside people - you learn more out here than you do in the classroom. Plus I just like helping people," she said.

Ethan Joyce and Jamison Jansen

Ethan Joyce and Jamison Jansen

Ethan and Jamison Jansen were hard at work digging down holes to sit the new wooden posts.

For Jamison, opting in to this was a no-brainer.

I just thought I could be doing my hours with someone who hasn't had fire come and wipe out everything, who's got their tractors. Or I could help someone who's got absolutely nothing left and slog it out, making sure they've got somewhere to put their cattle.

Jamison Jansen

"And yeah, it makes me feel pretty good about myself too."

"Yeah," Ethan said, sweat dripping down his brow. "It'll be pretty good to see a fence done and a smile on the farmer's face."

For both of these fellas, the events of the past month have left scars on their memories.

"The fire was shocking and the smoke was crazy. I had family members who lost stuff at Simpsons Ridge Rd. That weekend I was meant to go and help my aunt and uncle clear up some stuff along their boundary fences, but by then it was too late," Ethan said.

"We had to evacuate on the Tuesday," Jamison said. "That was really scary, to pack up and leave and know that our place might not be there when we came back.

"But I guess afterwards - it was really good to see everyone come together like that."

The Macksville High team were back again yesterday, and will be there every day this week, save Friday.

Luke and Terry are also hoping to continue the work with their students into next year.

"I'm just really proud of these kids," Terry said.

"Sometimes you get a bunch and they remind you why you became a teacher in the first place."

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