“When there are only 50 left, every koala counts,” – Chris Allen, NSW OEH

The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease. Photo: Chris Allen
The Wapengo koala found yesterday (Oct 17) clinging to an oyster lease, now in care at Potaroo Palace. Photo: Chris Allen

Small, fragile, and very precious communities of koalas scattered in the forests between Bermagui and Tathra are not only opening doors to their own survival but also the survival of their cousins around our continent.

Bega’s Chris Allen has been keeping watch over local populations since 1996, and since 2001 has coordinated a survey and research program through the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

“Because it’s such a small population, and really widely scattered, maybe 50 koalas over something like 30,000 hectares, it’s been a very difficult project,” Chris says.

Bunga Pinch Road marks the northern edge of this key habitat, then extending 10km south to Smith’s Road and Tea Ridge Road, and west to Lizard Road is the main area of koala activity.

“But there are other important patches,” Chris says.

“Into Mimosa Rocks National Park, in the Nelsons Catchment, there’s good evidence of koalas.”

One of these koalas ‘went viral’ last month, locals on Facebook delighted in seeing a strong, healthy looking specimen tramping along the side of the Bermagui – Tathra Road at Aragunnu.

This little fellow was spotted near aragunnu this morning

Posted by Catherine Clarke on Sunday, 24 September 2017

 

“Oh it’s just lovely, it’s a beautiful bit of footage, lovely that people are able to see it,” Chris smiles.

“I chatted with that person [who took the video] and in fact, it was just near the Aragunnu turn-off.

“He was just driving along the Bermi – Tathra Road, six o’clock in the morning, and here was this koala,” he says.

East of this spot is Mimosa Rocks National Park, on the western side there’s a bit of private property, then the newly created Murrah Flora Reserve.

According to Chris, there have been four or five sightings in this area, with one koala in poor condition rescued and returned to the wild healthy.

“That is one of the few points where koalas are crossing the road,” Chris says.

“Probably dispersing eastwards from the maternal home ranges we have identified in the Reserves.”

This is a really important stretch of road if this small population has any chance to grow in numbers, as Chris says, – “Every animal counts.”

“Slow down a bit, particularly at night,” Chris pleads.

Since that video emerged (and as I write this) another close encounter koala experience has emerged.

The Bega District News is reporting that a koala was found floating on an oyster bag at a lease in Wapango Lake, south of Bermagui yesterday morning.

Oyster farmers Coral and Brian Orr told the BDN they went out to flip their oyster bags when they spotted the koala’s head floating just above the water.

They pulled the bag in and the koala hurried under the hull of the boat to take shelter, the BDN reported.

Speaking to About Regional, Chris Allen says the koala is now resting at the Potoroo Palace wildlife sanctuary near Merimbula and will be monitored for a few days.

“It’s a young male, dehydrated and a bit skinny, but otherwise seems ok,” Chris says.

While koalas have been making the news lately it doesn’t mean the population is growing. Numbers are still small, in his 7o odd years, Chris says he has only seen five or six.

Our growing knowledge…

The fact that we know about these koalas and that management practices and response protocols are in place is a testament to a community-based effort that has a sense of magic about it.

Part of the initial drive to investigate this population came from forestry workers and local residents.

Since 2007 people from a range of agencies and backgrounds have literally been on their hands and knees on the forest floor looking for koala evidence – scats (droppings) mainly.

“I get terribly excited about finding koala poo,” Chris laughs.

Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell
Koala scat, AKA poo. Photo: Ian Campbell

That work has triggered higher level scientific research that is shaping future koala management in South East New South Wales and beyond.

“Since the 1960’s koala numbers in these coastal forests have been shrinking, and shrinking from the north,” Chris says.

“There were koalas north of the Bermagui – Cobargo Road, in Wallaga Lake National Park and Naira Creek, and on the northern side of Bermagui River, and gradually those numbers declined.”

Research has suggested that the decline has continued southwards – until you hit the Murrah River. South of the river that ‘hands and knees’ bush survey work points to a population that is at least stable and has been so over the last decade.

Sydney University has added its weight to the investigation looking into the secrets of this southern population.

“The way that’s done is that any time we find fresh koala poo we send it off to Sydney Uni and they are able to extract DNA,” Chris explains.

Genetic mapping is a part of the information recorded but so too is a snapshot of disease.

“What has come out of that research is that to the north of the Murrah River animals are carrying chlamydia but to the south – they’re not,” Chris says.

Explaining how and why that is the case remains unresolved, the results of this work are very preliminary.

“The koala is described as a chlamydia rich organism, the population is often carrying several different strains,” Chris says.

“Clearly some populations have a higher level of resilience.”

Chris believes the isolation of this southern population might be a factor in its survival which makes the management of their landscape more critical.

“We’ve picked up evidence of four perhaps five females breeding, we know where their home range areas are, ” Chris says.

Wildfire and climate change the big threats…

Habitat destruction has been one of the issues facing koalas across Australia, these particular Bega Valley marsupials received some respite from the NSW Government in March 2016 when the forests they were living in were protected from further logging with the creation of the Murrah Flora Reserves – taking in what was the Murrah, Tanja, and Mumbulla State Forests, and the southern section of the Bermagui State Forest.

“Almost certainly the greatest threat this population faces now is a major wildfire,” Chris says.

Managing that risk now drives a collaboration between the Rural Fire Service, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, local residents, and the Aboriginal community.

“We’ve been through a research project with the University of Melbourne where they’ve run what’s called fire simulation modeling,” Chris says.

The results highlight the likely progression of fire through this landscape, pinpointing areas for fuel reduction work. In turn, the threat to koalas as well as human life and property is reduced and the capacity of an effective response in the event of a wildfire is improved.

“Koalas can be very good neighbours,” Chris laughs.

The board managing the Biamanga National Park, which is made up of traditional owners, are keen to take on that key role of reducing the fire risk.

“For many years they have wanted to introduce a cultural burning program and I strongly support this,” Chris says.

“The way they see it is on two levels, one is to make an ecological contribution and [two] to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to be working back on country.

“Within it [cultural burning] is the idea of small, low-intensity, patch burns, small terms just working over a long period of time,” Chris says.

Aside from fire, climate change is the other looming threat to these precious creatures – it’s change that is literally turning the koala’s stomach.

“It’s fairly clear that increased carbon dioxide levels are actually reducing the palatability of eucalypt foliage,” Chris says.

The fear is that the pressure of climate change on local forests will cut the number of suitable feed trees available.

“These koalas are widely scattered because there are only relativity few trees providing adequate nutrition,” Chris believes.

Increasing the number of suitable species like Woollybuott is another ‘rod in the fire’ of this conservation project.

“Woollybuot is really struggling to regenerate,” Chris says.

Thirty small research plots have been established throughout koala country where a range of bush regeneration techniques are being trialled – one of them is the use of seed balls.

“Seed balls are made up of the seed of the target species, clay is mixed with peat mulch and Cayenne pepper,” Chris smiles.

“The Cayenne pepper is the magic ingredient that stops ants and other critters eating the seed.”

A solid clay ball is the result which sits in the bush waiting for good rain.

“Now it’s a question of monitoring and seeing what is most effective in encouraging the regeneration of Woollybuot and other preferred browse species,” Chris says.

Using this research in conjunction with cultural burning; regenerating burnt areas is the long game.

The future…

This relatively small forest holds big potential, not just for the survival of the koala according to Chris but so many other species.

“If we can’t hang on to our koala populations we are in big trouble,” Chris says.

“This population is a real litmus test as to what we can do about koala conservation nationally, this is a nationally significant effort.

“This is not just about koalas, the conservation initiatives that flow around the management of koala populations are conserving a whole lot more,” he says.

The success of this work so far has been the amount of knowledge collected and cooperation around better and more careful management of these forests.

It’s understood that the NSW Government will release its NSW Koala Strategy before the end of November.

A whole-of-government approach Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton hopes will stabilise and start to increase koala numbers around the state.

The work of Chris Allen and dozens of other locals have contributed to that process – advice that gives the koala a fighting chance.

While the survival of the koala is the main game, this locally based 10-year project has already had a big win. Its magic has seen a coming together of community will, good science, and politics.

“This is a population on the brink, it’s the last one we’ve got here in the coastal forests of the Bega Valley, let’s do what we can, we owe it to them given their history,” Chris says.

Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen
Koala in the Murrah Flora Reserve near Mumbulla. Photo: Dave Gallen

About Regional content is supported by the contribution of members – thanks to Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui, Tathra Beach House Apartments, Claire Blewett, Neroli Dickson, Jeanette Westmore, and Nigel Catchlove.

Eurobodalla and Bega Valley locals say “Stop Adani”

Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied
Eurobodalla locals gather on Congo Beach near Moruya. Photo: supplied

South East locals have been part of national protest action against the Adani coal mine proposed for North Queensland.

Protesters turned out in forty-five locations from Adelaide to Bondi to Bunbury over the weekend.

Locally, Eurobodalla 350 estimates around 250 people attended their protest at Congo Beach on Saturday, holding placards to spell out #STOP ADANI.

“We demand the federal government halt Adani’s enormous proposed coal mine,” spokesperson Allan Rees says.

In Bega, a colourful group marched through town on Friday and gathered in Littleton Gardens.

Organiser Sue Andrew sees the Adani mine as a litmus paper issue for a globe preparing for a climate change future.

“I feel now more than ever we have to unite to stand up against the fossil fuel industries and other extractive industries if we are serious about addressing climate change,” Ms Andrew says.

The Indian based Adani is seeking a billion dollar government loan to build a railway line linking its proposed Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin to the Abbot Point coal port on the Great Barrier Reef.

Once complete, Carmichael would be Australia’s largest coal mine, with six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, with a lifespan of between 25 and 60 years.

Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told the ABC the project will bring new jobs to communities like Rockhampton, Towsnville, Charters Towers, Mackay, and Claremont.

“You only have to travel to regional Queensland to understand what this project means to thousands of families out there that will be employed through this project,” she told the ABC

The Queensland Premier is also confident environmental concerns have been heard.

“At the end of the day we have the toughest environmental conditions attached to that mine,” she said.

Allan Rees says those that gathered at Congo on Saturday are angry that taxpayer dollars might be used to subsidise something “so destructive”.

“Adani’s mine may be far away, but the Eurobodalla can’t escape the climate change caused by burning that coal,” Mr Rees says.

“Australia has enormous reserves of coal which we must keep in the ground if we are to halt climate change.

“Climate change is here and is harming our agriculture and fishing.

“Beekeepers tell us how gum trees are blossoming at the wrong time, orchardists have lost trees from extreme heat, graziers and fishing people tell us how the climate is changing and harming their livelihoods,” Mr Rees says.

Bega locals march thorugh town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bega locals march through town with their marine puppets. Photo: Ian Campbell

Local fears also extend to the future of the Great Barrier Reef itself if the mine goes ahead with Bega protesters carrying a series of handmade marine creatures along Carp Street and into the town’s civic space.

“We know the Great Barrier Reef is highly endangered already and any further development or shipping would only increase the destruction of this incredible ecosystem,” Sue Andrew believes.

The exact number of jobs the $22 billion Adani investment will create is disputed, Adani claims 10,000 however the Land Court of Queensland has put the number at closer to 2,600.

That same court deemed the development could go ahead but added a number of new environmental safeguards.

While accepting new jobs are important for regional communities Allan Rees suggests the jobs created by the mine are floored and points to new jobs in greener industries.

“We have to support communities which currently rely on coal to have new industries to employ people,” he says.

“State and federal governments must develop programs to change to wind and solar, batteries and hydro, as well as energy efficiency.

“Australia has to give up coal mining and change to a renewable energy economy,” Mr Rees says.

“We should be retrofitting homes and businesses with insulation and using better designs for new buildings.”

Debate has been renewed on the back of a Four Corners investigation that aired last week on ABC TV.

“Adani has been exposed on the ABC’s Four Corners program as damaging people’s health, the livelihoods of farmers and fishing people and the environment in India,” Mr Rees says.

“Adani is using foreign tax havens and has a corporate structure that would allow them to minimise tax paid in Australia.

“The former Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that it was almost beyond belief that the Australian Government would look to provide concessional loans and other taxpayer support to facilitate Adani Group’s coal mining project,” he says.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sees huge potential in the mine going forward – should it be built.

“It will generate, over the course of its life, an enormous amount in taxes and in royalties, revenues for state and federal ­governments,” he told The Australian back in April.

Adani has suggested it will break ground on the mine site before the end of this month with the first coal produced in early 2020.

The billion dollar loan from the Federal Government’s National Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) remains undetermined.

However, News Limited has reported comments by Adani chairman Gautam Adani saying, “The project will be funded by internal accruals, NAIF and foreign banks.”

Bega’s Sue Andrew is positive people power will prevail.

“There is so much opposition. It is not viable; economically, ethically, or environmentally,” she says.

It is really a no-brainer, why not spend the proposed billion dollars from NAIF on building renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of sustainable jobs and show our commitment to our children’s future?”

Those behind the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley protests are committed to further action.

 

About Regional content is supported by the contributions of members. Thank you to Julie Klugman, Cathy Griff, Kate Liston-Mills, Shane O’Leary, Jenny Anderson, and Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui.

Time shift: the wonder of Kosciuszko’s caves. By Kate Burke

Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke
Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke

In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.

Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.

The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”

Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.

During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.

On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.

Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.

We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by limstone dams. Image: Kare Burke
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams. Image: Kare Burke

I hadn’t been underground for years.

I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.

Caves are like slow, slow gardens.

It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.

The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.

Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.

My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).

They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.

The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.

They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.

All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.

According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.

But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.

They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettucine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke

We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.

Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.

Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.

Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!

Click here for more details

Kate Burke is a sought-after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared on ‘Raisin – Regional Science and Innovation’

A look at what’s to come – the Tathra to Bega Community Bike Ride

The Bega Tathra Safe Ride Track is no longer ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ but becoming a reality. Photo: Doug Reckord
The Bega Tathra Safe Ride Track is no longer ‘somewhere over the rainbow’ but becoming a reality. Photo: Doug Reckord

A Community Bike Ride from Tathra to Bega later this month will showcase the vision and potential of the ambitious plan to build a permanent track between the two towns.

Over $3 million in State Government funding earlier this year has turned the idea into a reality.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time so to secure this funding was a dream come true, but we need to keep fundraising,” says Robert Hartemink, ‘Lead Rider’ of the Bega Tathra Safe Ride Committee.

On Sunday, September 24, rolling road closures starting at 9am from Lawrence Park Tathra will give riders a chance to experience the journey without the normal pressure of traffic – and the perfect way to wrap up NSW Bike Week.

“This will be a great family day, only the brave and keenest of riders can tackle this course normally, the speed and the closeness of cars and trucks is just too much for most,” Mr Hartemink says.

“I can’t wait to see families enjoying our beautiful countryside without that stress, not only on September 24 but whenever they choose to ride once we complete the track.”

Planning and design work for the new track is in full swing led by Bega Valley Shire Council.

“Council are keen to get as much bang for buck as possible, we are hoping to get as far as we can with the $3 million,” Mr Hartemink says.

“In the meantime we’ll push on with fundraising chipping away at each kilometre until it’s done.”

Entry fees for the ride are part of that effort but Bega Valley Legacy will share in the funds to support their work with families affected by war.

“When we finished this track it will be such a community asset – fitness, fun, sustainability, tourism, and we’ll get a taste of that on the twenty-fourth,” Mr Hartemink says.

The Community Bike Ride on September 24 will allow people to ride 'stress free'. Photo: Doug Reckord
The Community Bike Ride on September 24 will allow people to ride ‘stress free’. Photo: Doug Reckord

Entries are now open and the number of riders is starting to build as word spreads.

“For those who haven’t taken part in a mass ride before this will be a real thrill, there will be a real community spirit, everyone will be looked after,” he says.

The Tathra Sea Eagles AFL Club are preparing a hot breakfast and espresso coffee for riders from 7:30am, and the money will go towards the Clean Energy for Eternity solar panel project at Lawrence Park.

The finish line is the Bega Showground, with riders expected to arrive before 11am.

A bus donated by the Tathra Beach Country Club will get you back to your car at the start line.

Bega Tathra Safe Ride Secretary Doug Reckord adds, “This is a new event for the region and I really hope people are bitten by the riding bug and get a group together and register quickly.”

Tathra Beach and Bike have chipped in with a $500 voucher for the purchase of a ‘Specialized’ bike from their store. All riders will be in the draw for that fantastic prize.

There’s more information on the Bega Tathra Safe Ride Facebook page including a link to TryBooking.com for registrations.

“We are hoping the first section of track will be done in the first half of next year, and to keep the momentum going it would be terrific to see a big community turn out on September 24,” Mr Reckord says.

#Sponsored Post

 

Small communities represented on new Snowy Monaro Regional Council

Lynley Miners. Photo: Keva Gocher ABC Rural
Lynley Miners. Photo: Keva Gocher ABC Rural

Small towns have made their presence felt after the first flush of counting in the Snowy Monaro Regional Council election.

Just over 10,200 of yesterday’s votes have been counted at this point, with 11 new councillor positions to be decided from a field of 27 candidates.

Former Bombala Mayor and grazier Bob Stewart has polled the most votes with 1,447, followed by Adaminaby livestock carrier, Lynley Miners (1,364), and 23-year-old apprentice carpenter James ‘Boo’ Ewart from Jerangle (948).

Former Cooma – Monaro Mayor, Dean Lynch who has over seen the operations of the merged council for the last 16 months as Administrator says he’s happy to see the election come and democracy restored to the region.

“My biggest concern was representation for the smaller areas, and you can see that’s not going to be an issue now,” Mr Lynch says.

“I am a little bit worried about the lack of female representation in the results at this stage,” he says.

Bombala’s Anne Maslin is the highest polling woman with 243 votes which puts her in thirteenth position over all – outside the 11 member council.

Postal votes and preferences will come before the poll is declared and the final results are known.

Under the counting system used for local government elections in New South Wales, each candidate must reach a quota of votes to be elected, preferences follow and are distributed according to the voter’s instructions on their ballot paper.

“You get the total number of voters and then dived it by 12, one more than the new Council needs, to work out the quota,” Mr Lynch explains.

“Going off previous elections I think the quota will be around 930 votes.”

Preferences help candidates who don’t reach the quota in the first round of counting get elected.

Bob Stewart. Photo: Town and Country Magazine
Bob Stewart. Photo: Town and Country Magazine

Bob Stewart believes it might not be until Tuesday or Wednesday before all 11 seats in the new chamber are decided, he is hopeful a flow of preferences from himself and running mate John Last will get Anne Maslin elected.

Mr Stewart, a passionate critic of the merger process says he is humbled by his result and is looking forward to getting back to work.

“I will be putting my hand up for the Mayoral position,” Mr Stewart says.

“We’ve gotta make sure there’s equity down our way, the merger process for council staff in Bombala has been very unfair.”

“We don’t need it [Council] to be centralised towards Cooma so that Bombala loses out on jobs, we must try and protect jobs for the social and economic benefit of our smaller communities,” the former Bombala Mayor says.

Mr Stewart says he is also keen to address recent extra charges on utility costs like water and waste, he says he’ll be asking for a report to Council early in the term.

Speaking to About Regional while loading livestock on to his truck, Lynley Miners has mixed feelings about being elected to Council.

“The truth is I didn’t want to stand now, I am too busy with my own business, but now is the logical time, it’s a fresh start being the first council,” Mr Miners says.

Being a truckie, Mr Miners says he’ll be taking a particular interest in the region’s roads and better infrastructure.

“A lot people think we are going to be able to fix theses things over night,” Mr Miners says.

“We’ve got a three-year term and the first 12 or 18 months will be taken up with learning and trying to get sorted with whats been done during the administration period and get the ship steering straight.”

Dean Lynch, Administrator of Snowy Monaro Regional Council
Dean Lynch Photo: Snowy Monaro Regional Council

Despite his high personal vote Mr Miners says he won’t be standing as Mayor in the near future, preferring to leave the job to people with more time and experience for now.

When asked to reflect on the merger process between Bombala, Cooma-Monaro and Snowy River Shires, Mr Miners is hopeful people can move on

“It will hang there for a bit, but once people get to the table if they want to strive to make this better, it can’t be about us and them, it’s done, it’s happened, it’s time to move on,” Mr Miners says.

Dean Lynch will remain Administrator until the first council meeting on September 26 when the new Mayor is elected, says he has been working hard to tidy up loose ends and set the new council up for success.

The election marks an end to Mr Lynch’s nine-year career in local government, he says the last 16 months have been some of the most challenging times.

“I always knew pulling this together would be a poison chalice, but I love local government and I love this area,” he says.

“Some of the social media comments have been hard for my family but I’ll stand behind all the decisions I made, I feel like I’ve given the new council every chance possible to be good.”

Mr Lynch is delighted James ‘Boo’ Ewart appears to have been elected.

James Boo Ewart voting in Saturday's election. Photo: Facebook
James Boo Ewart voting in Saturday’s election. Photo: Facebook

“Boo has been around Council meetings with me for the last four years, he’s always wanted to be on Council, it’s great to see him get in without the need for any alliances, a fresh start is just what this council needs,” Mr Lynch says.

“The new council needs to get out and meet with communities right around the area

“My advice for the old and the new, they just need to get around and meet everybody before they rush in and make decisions,” Mr Lynch says.

When asked about his future, the former Cooma-Monaro Mayor says they’ll be a holiday with his wife first.

“The most exciting thing, I am the chair and a director of the Country Universities Centre and we are rolling those out right across the state at the moment, that’s my passion.

“I’ve had various offers, but I just need to take a step back for a while,” Mr Lynch says.

To keep track of the progressive election results head to the website of the NSW Electoral Commission.

 

*Thanks to About Regional members, Simon Marine, Kelly Murray, Gabrielle Powell, Nastasia Campanella and Thomas Oriti for supporting local story telling.

 

 

Fire danger signs – Who changes them? What do they mean?

Fire Danger Ratting signs, part of the landscape in South East NSW. Photo: Ian Campbell
Fire Danger Rating signs, part of the landscape in South East NSW. Photo: Ian Campbell

The truth behind the workings of the region’s ‘Fire Danger Rating Signs‘ isn’t as colourful as I’d hoped.

However, it is another indicator of the commitment and dedication of the Rural Fire Service in South East NSW and a reminder of the devastating potential that exists in the environment we live in.

Where ever I travel these signs of green, blue, orange, and red catch my eye, a marker of dry times and wet times, and different geography. There is something universal about them, like a pot hole on the main street – every town has one.

And so simple, clear, effective – survivors in a high tech age.

When I started to see their arrows change and move up a notch or two with the changing season I was reminded of a long held mystery. Who changes them? How do they change? Never have I seen one being changed.

Asking that question of locals on Facebook prompted a range of creative answers.

Mixed with obvious affection for this service, it was suggested different mythical creatures, along with squads of ninjas, and ‘invisible people of the dark’ were all responsible for this very public but seldom seen work.

After at first suggesting goblins, trolls, and pixies changed the signs, one of the region’s fire chiefs revealed the secret.

Community Safety Officer, Marty Webster. Photo Ian Campbell
Community Safety Officer, Marty Webster. Photo Ian Campbell

Marty Webster is the Community Safety Officer with Far South Coast Rural Fire Service, he told About Regional that the signs change as a result of information from the Bureau of Meteorology.

“We get the ratings through and then we hit the pagers and one of our dedicated volunteers goes out and makes the change to the sign,” Marty explains.

“It happens when ever there is a change to the rating, typically over the winter months they’ll stay on low – moderate, moving into spring is when they start fluctuating, and over summer they can change daily.”

Marty says each RFS brigade is responsible for the signs in their patch, and often it’s the volunteer that lives closest to the sign who will go out, undo the padlock at the back of the pointer and move the sign accordingly.

Behind the Fire Danger Rating signs. Photo: Ian Campbell
Behind the Fire Danger Rating signs. Photo: Ian Campbell

When it comes to working out which of the six fire danger ratings the arrow will be stuck to, a range of factors are taken into account.

“Humidity, wind speed, temperature, and the state of the fuel – quite a complex algorithm that the Bureau does for us,” Marty says.

Each step along the way points to the predicted intensity of a bushfire if one was to start on that day.

“So at Low – Moderate, fires under those conditions will be fairly easy to contain,” Marty explains.

“At Very High, fires can be really unpredictable and there is a significant risk of house losses.

“Severe is where we hit Total Fire Ban, and then we move up to Extreme and Catastrophic, by the time we get to Catastrophic we are basically saying – no houses are designed or prepared well enough to withstand fire under those conditions,” he says.

What is of some comfort is that those days at the high end don’t come out of the blue and tend to be forecast days ahead.

“Certainly at Very High I’d be really encouraging people to look at their level of preparation,” Marty says.

The Community Safety Officer suggests that people use the fire danger rating signs as part of a Bush Fire Survival Plan.

“They are really valuable trigger points, so for example on a day of High Fire Danger people should start monitoring the RFS website more closely and as the fire danger rating increases or the situation changes other actions and decisions can be initiated,” Marty says.

The official bushfire season started on September 1 through the Bega Valley and Eurobodalla meaning fire permits are now needed. Landholders on the Monaro and in the Snowy Mountains have until October 1 before permits are needed.

Call your Local Fire Control Centre for advice.

 

*Another local story made with the contribution of About Regional members, thanks to Maria Linkenbagh, Tabitha Bilaniwskyi-Zarins, Jeanette Westmore, Fiona Cullen, and Kiah Wilderness Tours.

Postcard 4 from Timor Leste – Natarbora. By Tim Holt

Lunch -delicious small redfish with a chili basting, rice ice in banana leaves and a thermos of black coffee. Photo: Tim Holt
Lunch -delicious small redfish with a chili basting, rice ice in banana leaves and a thermos of black coffee. Photo: Tim Holt

Wednesday dawns, I’ve woken early to the deep throated chanting from the nearby mosque that melds into early morning prayer and song from the Catholic Sisters at Fatuhada.

Ahead lies the 150 kilometres to Natarbora, it doesn’t sound far, but from Dave’s experience, it will be a long and painful trip. This morning though we are feeling somewhat reassured that conditions have improved.

Last evenings conversation with Ego had intimated that the road was now “really good” and our journey would take far less time than in the past.

I have visions of smooth tar and an easy run to Natarbora.

First task of the day though is to collect two sewing/overlocker machines that Augus and I will share company with in the back of the Toyota. The machines are for the sewing group at Uma Boco and had been requested by Nikolas Klau, the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste coordinator in Natarbora.

With the machines, our bags, guitar and other instrument cases, it’s a tight squeeze for Augus and me in the Land Cruiser troop wagon, but hey, the road ahead will be smoother than a …!

With Jose at the helm we head out of Dili east along the coast towards Manatuto, the road is mostly good, but well before our lunch break, it deteriorates.

As we climb over the coastal hills the road can only be described as appalling.

We stop for lunch at one of the seaside food stalls, delicious small redfish with a chili basting, rice ice in banana leaves and a thermos of black coffee. I could get very used to this!

The Manatuto School Garden - a 'blooming success'. Photo: Tim Holt
The Manatuto School Garden – a ‘blooming success’. Photo: Tim Holt

Ego Lemos had invited us to check out the Permaculture school garden at Manatuto primary, so we take a minor detour to have a look at their progress and to take some photos. And it is impressive, despite being winter and the dry season.

From Manatuto we head over the mountain and the interior to the south coast, the vegetation changes along the way.

It is the dry season and everywhere on the north side of the island, it is dry, very, very dry. Vegetation is sparse, the steep hills brown, the rocky soil exposed by the predation of goats and the never-ending cycle of firewood collection, only to be further eroded by the torrential downpours of the wet season.

The bare dry hills of the north. Photo: Tim Holt
The bare dry hills of the north. Photo: Tim Holt

The transformation southwards through the mountains is dramatic, increasingly lush and tropical.

The air is moist and cooler, the humidity bearable. The sheer beauty of the mountains as they rise and fall into beautiful valleys is simply breathtaking.

Since we arrived in Timor it has been overcast, thick and humid and always a smoky haze – everywhere the acrid smell of wood fired cooking.

Here through in the interior, it feels like a different world.

The tropical lushness of the south makes of a nice change. Photo: Tim Holt
The tropical lushness of the south makes for a nice change. Photo: Tim Holt

One thing that can be said about the roads in Timor Leste is that they will one day be very good.

But not now. Across the country, all the major roads are being rebuilt, and not just a kilometre at a time.

All the way along the coast, thru the interior to Natarbora on the south side of the island, construction workers are doing major drainage works – massive drains with concrete and stone retaining walls the entire length of the road.

I lose count of the new bridges, there must be thousands of metres of concrete being poured.

It is labour intensive, backbreaking work. The Chinese have the contacts for the road reconstruction program in Timor Leste, some hundreds of millions of dollars.

There are Timorese amongst the road gangs but it seems there are mostly Chinese workers and I have little doubt that this is a cause of tension for the unemployed here.

I’m told the Timorese working as concrete labourers are paid five dollars a day!

Chinese road crews are a common site. Photo: Tim Holt
Chinese road crews are a common site. Photo: Tim Holt

While this work continues, the road surfaces have yet to be prepared. In the Toyota it’s like traveling on bumpy, corrugated, vibrating roller coaster. My body and the two sewing machine/overlockers will be requiring some restorative adjustment when we reach Natarbora.

About twenty kilometres or so out of Natarbora as we pass yet another construction crew we get a heart warming surprise.

Several of the young construction workers are Timorese, and as we pass they recognise Jose and the white Toyota.

“Hey…Bega Valley…Bega Valley,” they yell, waving and smiling.

After almost nine hours traveling on what must come close to being one of the worst roads in the world, nothing could have raised my spirits more.

It speaks volumes to the vision and dedication of Jim and Moira Collins and the Bega Valley Advocates. It’s a humbling moment for me to appreciate just what that ongoing commitment and friendship means for the people here in Natarbora.

Jose Da Costa, his partner Lucy and their eldest daughter Moira, named after Moira Collins, pictured here with husband Jim. Both founding members of the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste. This photo hangs on Jose and Lucy's wall.
Jose de Costa, his partner Lucy and their eldest daughter Moira, named after Moira Collins, pictured here with husband Jim. Both founding members of the Bega Valley Advocates for Timor Leste. This photo hangs on Jose and Lucy’s wall. Photo: Tim Holt

Late afternoon and the storm clouds are gathering if it’s at all possible the road deteriorates even further.

The several kilometres before the Uma Boco intersection was fantastic, but the road into Uma Boca is still the worst bit of the worst road in the world!

When we arrive at the Franciscan Convent, Nikolas Klau and his son Brian are there to meet us.

Brian had spent a year in the Bega Valley, attending the Sapphire Coast Anglican College and he was keen to catch up and reminisce with Dave.

Dave Crowden with Brian Klau who spent time at Sapphire Coast Anglican Collage in Bega. Photo: Tim Holt
Dave Crowden with Brian Klau who spent time at Sapphire Coast Anglican College in Bega. Photo: Tim Holt

We’re not the only guests at the convent and over another typically delicious Timorese dinner prepared for us by the Sisters, we meet several health workers – Basilio Martens and Jose de Costa, who are visiting several of the communities in and around Natarbora.

After dinner, Jose and Augus head off to spend the night with friends in Uma Boco, Dave and I retire to our rooms. I fall to sleep to the sound of rain.

Thursday and it’s wet, and it’s a fuller load in the Toyota this morning, Nikolas has joined us for the school visits, so there are five of us in the wagon plus the two overlockers. The first task of the day is to unload the machines at the resource centre for the sewing group.

Today we visit three schools, Uma Boco Kindergarten, Junior High School and Ametalaren Primary. The musical experience with the children at all the schools we visit over the two days is an absolute delight, so enthusiastic and joyful.

Experiencing the conditions, the paucity of resources and the challenges the teachers face is sobering. There are no computer rooms, or libraries, the classrooms are basic and in need of repair. The teachers share one staff room. The only books in the “library” we saw are textbooks for the students and teachers.

Despite this, the teachers and students are just so enthusiastic. As Jose says, “Education is number one for the future of the Timorese,” and this is where the Advocates have put all their emphasis.

Several years ago the Advocates set up a resource and training centre for the professional development of teachers and the community.

The advocates also support trainee teachers thru scholarships that enable them to study a Bachelor of Education at the Baucau Institute, East Timor’s main teacher education facility.

So far 43 teachers have graduated from the professional development program, another five are doing their teacher training now and a further four graduated at the beginning of this year (2017), they are now completing internships in Natarbora.

The significance of the support the Advocates are giving in this area cannot be understated. It is a huge contribution and deserving of far more support, both financially and on the ground.

Dave Crowden, Tim Holt and the kids and teachers of Uma Boco Kindergarten
Dave Crowden, Tim Holt and the kids and teachers of Uma Boco Kindergarten

Mid-afternoon we pay a visit to Carlos to see if he can be persuaded to play a leadership role in the choir project I mentioned in postcard three.

Carlos was a member of Koro Loriko, the Timorese choir formed by Ego Lemos that came to Australia in 2012 to perform at the Melbourne Millennium Chorus and Boite Schools’ Chorus concerts.

Carlos is now married with a small family and making a living as a builder.

We while away an hour or so with Carlos singing and playing a few tunes.

Music does not pay the bills for his family in Timor, despite Carlos being a prodigious talent. It seems a great shame that his tunes are unlikely to ever reach a wider audience.

It’s around four in the afternoon now as we make our way back to the Uma Boco Resource Centre, where the sewing group is in action.

There are patterns from the Advocates and quite some excitement with the delivery of the overlockers.

Dave and I are warmly welcomed by the group and presented with some beautiful examples of their work to bring back to Bega.

It’s also an opportunity the setup and test the PA, mixer, and amp that were donated by the Advocates for concerts and performances.

It doesn’t take long before one of the lads pulls out a guitar. We turn on the mics, while Dave fiddles with settings on the amp and mixer and before you know it there’s plenty of voices singing a few of Ego’s songs and a Bob Marley tune or two.

You can never have too much fun here with a guitar and some willing voices, but it’s time to let the sewing group do their thing, so we pack up the gear and head back to the convent for the evening.

Our evening meal is shared with Basilio and Jose from the health team.

After dinner, I fall into a long conversation with Basilio about the health teams work.

Basilio is the team leader and their focus is on a disease that he describes as the “forgotten disease.” Lymphatic Filariasis, also known as Elephantiasis.

It is a parasitic infection caused by worms transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Basilio is confident the disease will be eradicated in Timor Leste by 2020.

In ASEAN countries only Indonesia and Timor Leste are reporting cases, but it is here in the south and around Natarbora that the disease remains prevalent.

Ironically it is the wet and lush conditions that favour the district’s agriculture that also provides ideal conditions for both the nematode worms and mosquitos.

The eradication program is being funded thru an aid program being sponsored by the government of South Korea.

Dave with Health Team Leader Basilio Martins (black shirt) and Jose de Costa. Photo: Tim Holt
Dave with Health Team Leader Basilio Martins (black shirt) and Jose de Costa. Photo: Tim Holt

Friday morning and there’s early rain, but it clears before breakfast to reveal bright blue skies as the heat builds.

Today, Nikolas will visit Abet Oen Primary and Junior Secondary School. The school gardens are impressive.

Our final school visit is to St Francis School, also with a fabulous school garden.

The beauty of these gardens is that they are adjacent to the classrooms, so they become very much part of everyday activities.

The music session with senior students was particularly enjoyable with Brian Klau, a student here, playing Dave’s guitar and leading the students in song.

St Francis School Garden. Photo: Tim Holt
St Francis School Garden. Photo: Tim Holt

The music continued into the night with an invitation to dinner with Nikolas and his family. Sitting around with Jose, Angus, Nikolas and his sons – listening to them laugh, play and sing together you just know that this country has an enormous future.

Saturday dawns and it’s time to say farewell to this wonderful community and the Franciscan Sisters. Each morning I have watched as several of the Sisters head out for their early morning errands on their Honda motor scooters, in full habit with helmet and thongs. Wish I had a photo for you!

Dave and I bid farewell to the wonderful Sisters who have fed us so well, we say our goodbyes to Nikolas, Brian with the promise of a return next year, our luggage stowed aboard the Land Cruiser, along with bags of local produce that Jose is taking back to stock the family larder for the months ahead.

Three bags of the local specialty – Natarbora popping corn and a surprise passenger that I don’t discover until we are halfway to Dili – more about that next time.

Today we will take a different route from the way we came, heading along the coast to Betano, then travel thru the interior via Same and Maubisse.

We will stop at Betano. A significant site in the history between both our nations – more in postcard 5.

Words and pictures by Tim Holt

Catch up on Postcard 1, Postcard 2, and Postcard 3 in Tim’s postcard series from Timor Leste.

 

Making an informed choice for Snowy Monaro Regional Council this Saturday

Election Day is Sept 9. Source: AEC
Election Day for Snowy Monaro Regional Council is this Saturday – September 9.  Photo credit: AEC

A new era in Local Government is set to bloom with elections for Snowy Monaro Regional Council this Saturday (September 9) ending 16 months of administration by former Cooma Mayor, Dean Lynch.

Pre-Poll voting is already underway at Jindabyne, Berridale, Cooma, and Bombala with 27 candidates contesting 11 positions in the merged council chamber.

Familiar names on your ballot paper include Bob Stewart, Winston Phillips, Sue Haslingden, John Shumack, and Roger Norton.

But there is some new interest including solicitor and tourism operator Maria Linkenbagh, Nimmitabel grazier John Harrington, and 23-year-old apprentice carpenter James ‘Boo’ Ewart.

You can explore the full list of local candidates through the NSW Electoral Commission website.

Former Deputy Mayor of Cooma-Monaro Shire Council, and now Member of the NSW Upper House, Bronnie Taylor says a mix of old and new will be important for the new council.

“Yes we need experience but this is an opportunity to get some really great new people on council and I really encourage people to look at that,” Mrs Taylor says.

With just days to go until polling day the attention and interest of voters will start to sharpen.

Voting instructions on each ballot paper will guide locals, but generally speaking, each voter will be asked to select six candidates in order of preference, you can select more if you wish and perhaps push out to 11 to reflect the full council you want to be elected. But for your vote to count, you must at least number six boxes in order of preference.

The inaugural mayor will be elected by councilors at their first meeting after the election.

Mrs Taylor admits the process and choices can be overwhelming but she is calling on locals to take an interest and use the days ahead to find their new councilors.

“Vote for who you think is going to make a difference…vote for someone who has the same values and aspirations for your community,” she says.

Despite being part of the State Government that drove the merger of Bombala, Snowy River and Cooma-Monaro Councils, The Nationals MLC accepts that the process could have been better but has confidence in the future of the 11 member Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

Mrs Taylor is adamant small communities won’t be forgotten in the new larger entity.

“The councilors that get elected, they’re good people, they care about their communities [but they also] care about their region,” she says.

The former Deputy Mayor points to the $5.3 million State investment in the Lake Wallace Dam project at Nimmitabel as an example of that ‘bigger regional thinking’.

“I am someone who lives in the town of Nimmitabel which has a population of around 300 people,” Mrs Taylor says.

“We had a really shocking time during the drought.

The Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce will host a 'meet the candidates' forum on September 4.
The Jindabyne Chamber of Commerce will host a ‘meet the candidates’ forum on September 4.

“There was not one other councilor from Nimmitabel or from down this end of the shire [on that council except me but] every single one of those nine councilors on Cooma-Monaro Shire Council voted to invest that money.

“They knew it was really important for that community (Nimmitabel) and that that community was part of them,” Mrs Taylor says.

Given the size of the field to choose from and the need to at least number six boxes on the ballot paper, voters can be forgiven for feeling confused or unsure of who to vote for.

“I think people that get up there and promise 16 different things aren’t very realistic,” Mrs Taylor says.

“You have to have someone who is prepared to work with other people and prepared to see other points of view.

“At the end of the day…you have got to find compromises and ways through to get good results,” the former Deputy Mayor suggests.

Working out who those people are or finding the information you need to have an informed vote can be a challenge in amongst the posters, Facebook pages, and how to vote cards of an election campaign.

“I think candidate forums are really good,” Mrs Taylor says.

“And the great thing about local government is that you can pick up the phone and ring them (candidates) and ask them what they think about something and they should be able to give you some time to do that.”

Mrs Taylor also suggests talking to other people in the community as a way of making your vote count.

“Talk to the people that you trust, they know the pulse of the community, I think that’s really valuable,” she says.

Contact phone numbers and email addresses for many of the candidates can be found on the NSW Electoral Commission website.

Polling booths are open between 8am and 6pm this Saturday (September 9), voting is compulsory at one of 13 South East locations from Adaminaby to Delegate to Bredbo.

 

*For more coverage of the Snowy Monaro Regional Council election, including comment from former Snowy River Councilor Leanne Atkinson, click HERE.

*This story was made possible thanks to the contribution of About Regional members Julie Klugman, Nigel Catchlove, Jenny Anderson, and Ali Oakley. 

 

 

 

Spring is supposedly just around the corner, actually it’s here! By Kathleen McCann

Kathleen McCann
Kathleen McCann – About Regional permaculture guru. By Ian Campbell

Are you set to get into spring and all that it entails – making your garden ready for the next few months of warming conditions? In some gardens on the south coast, plants (as well as animals and birds!) have already begun their explosion of flowers, perfume, and accelerated growth.

What to do?

Well, hopefully you’ve survived the challenge of a very dry winter. Some of the crops I planted were very slow to grow, but since the last good drop of rain a few weeks ago, my garden has started to pump again. I have broccoli, parsley, three types of lettuce and mizuna really taking off, keeping me in greens.

A little slow to start at first, the peas have finally come in and the broadbeans are also flowering and fruiting fast.

Broadbeans have really responded to our recent rain. By Kathleen McCann
Broadbeans have really responded to our recent rain. By Kathleen McCann

But I’m contemplating what to do to get my beds ready for even more food.

I’ve got some horses that have moved in next door and my chickens are making an excellent pile of poo for me too. So it’s out in the paddock with a couple of big buckets and a shovel for the horse manure then I am raking up the chicken debris under the roost to help my garden along.

Usually, I would put both manures through my composting system – which I did throughout winter – but I am also going to put it straight onto the beds and lightly dig them in. This will give the micro-life in the beds a real boost, plus I am going to add some potash and dolomite and to top it off a healthy dose of mulch.

Choose your mulches wisely, if you are buying from a produce store make sure you enquire where the bales have come from. Organically grown or chemical free is the best to get – or slash your own if you can – as long as seed heads have not appeared, most grasses are good for mulching. I am lashing out and have bought a couple of organic sugar cane bales.

A mini hot house to protect fragile seedlings from cold late winter nights, with lady bird watching on. By Kathleen McCann
A mini hot house to protect fragile seedlings from cold late winter nights, with lady bird watching on. By Kathleen McCann

But rice straw, lucerne (horse food grade), wheat and oat straw work well too. Lucerne has more goodies in it because it is a nitrogen fixing plant. I steer away from pea straw as I have heard that it is sprayed with herbicide to make it easier for baling. It’s good to always check.

I’m making up seed trays out of old styrofoam vege boxes (free at the back of most supermarkets – goes straight to landfill otherwise).

My soil mix for planting seeds is two parts old sawdust, one part old manure, one part compost.

I’ve already got tomatoes going and springing into life! I placed a couple of old glass louvres on top to make a simple greenhouse – keeping the moisture and warmth in. As the weather warms overnight I will take the glass off.

Next to go in the boxes with be all my summer lovers – zucchini, cucumber, more lettuce, and maybe some extra different heritage tomatoes. I plant beans, corn, carrot and beetroot straight into the soil.

This year I am also experimenting with more subtropical plants – two types of sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and choko.

My garden - in need of a spring tidy up. By Kathleen McCann
My garden – in need of a spring tidy up. By Kathleen McCann

I did plant some yacon one year, but it doesn’t agree with my belly! (A bit like Jerusalem artichoke). I’ve also planted more tamarillo and passionfruit as my older plants are on their way out now after 4 years of growth – both plants usually only last 5 years.

So get out there and get started!

Fruit trees have already started flowering, the soil is receptive for more planting after the good rain we’ve had so it’s an ideal time to get into it!

Happy playing and planting,

Kathleen

Words and pictures by Kathleen McCann – permaculturist, artist, good chick and number 1 worker at Luscious Landscapes.

Eurobodalla, Bega Valley and Monaro firefighters at work in Canadian wildfires

Garry Cooper. By Ian Campbell
Garry Cooper. By Ian Campbell

Fire fighters from South East NSW are about to step into the heat of the Canadian wildfire season, with British Columbia ravaged by more than 3,300 fires since early July.

As the third wave of NSW fire fighters prepares to leave tomorrow (Wednesday) the situation on the ground in Kamloops, about four hours bus drive east of Vancouver is deteriorating.

The latest overview talks of active fire growing significantly, very high fire dangers to continue, communities under very thick smoke, and worsening fuel and fire measures over the next week

Bega’s Garry Cooper will see it first hand.

Garry spends his working week overseeing fire mitigation and hazard management for Far South Coast Rural Fire Service, covering the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley.

However, he will finish this particular working week with his boots on the ground in Canada as part of a 100 strong deployment made up of personnel from the NSW RFS, NSW Forestry Corporation, National Parks and Wildlife Service, and ACT RFS.

Kamloops wildfire, August 2017. By Kim Anderson of iNFOnews.ca
Kamloops wildfire, August 2017. By Kim Anderson of iNFOnews.ca

“Up to 1.2 million hectares has been alight and they have called on other countries for assistance,” Garry says.

Two earlier contingents from NSW are already on the ground, including Tracey Anderson and Simon May from Malua Bay RFS, and David Philp from Brogo.

Garry will arrive in the earlier hours of Thursday morning Bega time with Patrick Waddell from Bermagui Brigade, Jason Snell from Dalmeny – Kianga, and Ben Winter from Berridale.

This third six-week deployment marks a shift in the Australian contribution so far, with ‘arduous personnel’ requested by Canadian authorities.

“Key incident management staff have been helping out in planning, operations, and logistics but now they [Canadians] need fire fighters on the ground, Remote Area Firefighters like Patrick, Jason and Ben to support ongoing operations,” Garry explains.

Temperatures have been around or above 40 degrees Celsius right through summer, according to Garry, and over night humidity in the low twenties.

“Unprecedented weather conditions,” Garry says.

The remains of mobile homes destroyed by wildfire are seen at a trailer park in Boston Flats, B.C., on July 9 2017. By Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press.
The remains of mobile homes destroyed by wildfire at a trailer park in Boston Flats B.C. on July 9, 2017. By Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press.

Canadian media has declared it a ‘Summer of Fire‘ with thousands forced to flee their homes at different times over the last month – up to 45,000 at the peak of the emergency,  an estimated $230 million in fire fighting costs, and dozens of homes and trailers lost.

While hot, smokey, dirty conditions are nothing new to the Aussies on the ground, they will be working with and in a different landscape and environment.

“It’s extremely steep terrain, very close to the Rocky Mountains,” Garry says.

“And I am guessing a lot of their forests are pine and red woods – all that conifer type timber, very different to what we are used to fighting.”

Local RFS boss, Superintendent John Cullen says he supports Garry and local volunteers being called up to serve overseas.

“Garry is respected throughout the state and that’s why he’s been picked,” he explains.

John says he is happy to see the effort and commitment of local volunteers like Tracey Anderson, Simon May, David Philp, Patrick Waddell, and Jason Snell being recognised with these higher duties.

“We are very proud of them, going over and representing this area,” he says.

“The experience they will gain out of this will be healthy for our organisation nationally and locally,” John believes.

And there’s a debt to repay, part of the fraternity of fire fighting John says.

A helicopter dumps a load of water on a grass fire in British Columbia. By Adam Proskiw of iNFOnews.ca
A helicopter dumps a load of water on a grass fire in British Columbia. By Adam Proskiw of iNFOnews.ca

“In a time of need, everyone steps up.”

“We’ve had firefighters from this area of Canada over here working with NSW RFS during serious fires,” John says.

Garry has been an RFS volunteer since he was 17 years old, following a family tradition. From there it built into a career with Far South Coast RFS based at Bega Fire Control.

He says this opportunity to help on the other side of the world is overwhelming.

“The Service puts out an Expression of Interest every year to all members of staff and volunteers to go on an Overseas Deployment Register,” Garry explains.

“That register is there in case a request comes through for supporting fire fighting operations in other countries.”

By the time Garry and his comrades return to the Far South Coast the region will be in the early days of its bush fire season.

“The introduction of very large air water tankers here in the last couple of years is something that is day-to-day business for the Canadians and the Americans, so there is scope for us to learn more.”

“The more we do this and communicate with other countries, the more versatile we become for our communities at home,” Garry says.

Made with the assistance of About Regional Members, Jo Riley-Fitzer, Nancy Blindell, Phil Martin, Wendy Gorton, and Julie Rutherford Real Estate Bermagui – thanks for supporting local story telling.