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Aboriginal firefighters honoured in Lake Tyers
Saturday 25 October was a wonderful day of celebration and commemoration for Lake Tyers Trust firefighters in Gippsland. Joined by members from surrounding brigades, District 11 operations staff, the Koori community and family from across the state, the firefighters were reunited with old friends, remembered founding members, received their service medals and celebrated the importance of the brigade to the Lake Tyers community and CFA.
"We had a great day," said local member and dynamo Charmaine Sellings. "It’s really nice to see old and new friends here on country and we’re really proud that we’ve all come together to honour Margie in the presence of her family."
The proceedings kicked off with Charmaine providing a short summary of the history of the brigade, which is unique to CFA and to Victoria. All-Aboriginal and all-women until they were recently joined by new recruit Julian ‘Tiny’ Edwards, the crew formed in the late 1990s as a satellite of Toorloo Arm brigade following requests from the local community. And the small fire station continues to take pride of place on the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust.
"We went from having 20 or 30 fires per year to having almost no fires as soon as the brigade started," said Charmaine, "and this shows we’re doing a really important job of looking after our people and cultural assets here on the Trust."
The Aboriginal crew proud in their blues and yellows organised an impressive, jam-packed morning of cultural activities and speakers, including a traditional welcome to country by a senior Aboriginal elder and an exceptional dance performance by local Gunnai/Kurnai dancers.
Against the backdrop of coastal bushland and waterways, red fire trucks from Toorloo Arm, Wairewa, Metung and Lakes Entrance lined up beside the fire shed. The performance by the local Djeetgung Megai/Lidj Aboriginal dancers, led by local dancer Alice Patten, was definitely a highlight of the day.
"We’re proud to be keeping culture alive through our dance troupe," said and emotional Alice. "We’re also real proud to be here today with CFA to honour Aunty Margie’s memory."
Paying respect to elders past and present is an important part of Aboriginal cultural ceremony. In keeping with tradition, a finely engraved plaque dedicated to the memory of founding brigade member Margie Mobourne was unveiled by her husband Peter Byrne.
"We lost Margie almost three years ago," said Peter. "She was really involved with CFA and would have been wrapped with this honour. So I’d like to thank the CFA and Charmaine for all their hard work."
This emotional observance was followed by a stirring speech by former CFA District 11 Operations Manager Mark Reid, who commended the leadership of local Aboriginal elders and firefighters for their vision and commitment.
"Today marks more than a decade of continued service not only to the local Aboriginal community but also to the broader community," Mark said.
"The women worked hard and the crew have done a lot for breaking down barriers and building relationships between our communities. This is one of the great values of CFA. We’re all part of a community. We may be different, but we all work together. I’m extremely proud to be here today and well done and congratulations to Charmaine and her crew."
To honour the extraordinary contribution of the Lake Tyers firefighters, ten-year service medals were awarded by acting Operations Manager Daryl Hunter and Toorloo Arm brigade Captain Wayne Johnstone. The awards were presented to firesighters Charmaine Sellings, Rhonda Thorpe and Katrina Mullet with great applause and encouragement by the guests.
‘The awards are well deserved’ said Daryl, ‘and it is my pleasure to commend your service on behalf of CFA’ he said.
Affirming the important role of CFA on the Trust, former Lake Tyers Trust CEO Steven Tregonning said the brigade has been a constant source of inspiration, unity and security to the Aboriginal community. ‘Having CFA here on the Trust has also been one of the few things that we’ve held certain over the years’, Steve said. ‘As a firefighter for over 30 years myself, I’ve also seen how women taking the lead in our community has really bought about a lot of positive change’, he said.
The seamless way the proceedings progressed is testament to the capabilities of these women. In the local Gunnai Language ‘Djeetgung’ is the female blue wren, native and common to the Gippsland area and the totem for women of the Gunnai/Kurnai Tribes. As a symbol of respect for the Lake Tyers community, District 11 commissioned Aboriginal artist Loraine Sellings to paint a totem panel for the CFA slip-on featuring the blue wren, which was unveiled to close the formal proceedings.
Guests were then invited to share lunch with the local community at the training centre on the shores of stunning Lake Tyers, where discussions about plans for more considered engagement ensued enthusiastically over a delicious meal prepared by the local community.
‘We’re really happy with today’ said founding brigade member Rhonda Thorpe, ‘getting community and CFA together on country has been deadly’, she said.
Healing happens when communities come together in celebration. CFA’s commitment to the Lake Tyers crew ensures these very special Aboriginal firefighters continue their work protecting lives and property on the Lake Tyers Trust.
Well done CFA!
BSP Team Leader,
Fire & Emergency Management, CFA