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Alan Stuart, Mt Taylor Fire Brigade, District 11
Alan joined CFA in about 1956. He features as the "Face of CFA" in the upcoming issue of Brigade magazine
How long have you been with this brigade?
I joined in about 1956. I was captain for 10 years. I’m now a life member and my brother Ken is captain.
Why did you join CFA?
Dad was a member since at least 1947. He was the apparatus officer when we had knapsacks full of water left in boxes on roadsides. I helped Dad and became involved in the demos too.
Have you been affected by bushfire on the home front?
In 1965 a fire that started at Licola burnt in the bush for two weeks then hit our property. We used fire as one of our farming tools but that day everything exploded. Forest bordered us on two sides. I saw a fireball hit and the whole hillside went up. The fire came in waves and lasted on our property for 14 hours until we had the edges down.
Stock losses always affected me. I remember one lot of Hereford cattle running past – they looked like Murray Greys, they were so badly singed and distressed.
How involved are you now in fire response and recovery?
In 2003 a lot of our friends at Wulgulmerang and Benambra were impacted by fire and Laurie Lind and I thought we’d help. We talked to farmers and put crews together. One early trip we went to a burnt out property and packed up a woolshed for scrap. A woman there said they hadn’t known where to begin and our help made them feel they could make a new start. That comment has been repeated many times. We worked about 1700 hours after those fires, mainly repairing fences.
What has that one job led to?
Mt Taylor brigade and friends moved on to removing or repairing fences in other recovery programs. I’ve become an organiser of working parties with people from their early teens to 81 years old involved. After the 2009 fire in Callignee, we spent most weekends for 14 months camping there and fencing. My daughter Margie was there for about 37 of those weekends. We helped after the 2011 Tostaree fire and did flood recovery fencing in 2012. We’ve removed 140 kilometres of fencing at Glenaladale in 2014, and are now working at Buchan and Tubbut.
We all get great satisfaction from helping.
Does your work begin and end with fencing?
Being burnt out is daunting. We can’t go in and just take over. We are locals, mostly farmers ourselves, and we meet affected farmers on their level. I have a cuppa and talk – and listen. One farmer told me that he didn’t know if he could cope. We got stuck in and he saw seven of us do a week's work in one day. It was a big lift for him.
How is this work supported?
People volunteer to help on the fence lines, and donate money too. Lindenow Lions Club donated $30,000 for wire. Telstra donated equipment and workers for a day. After the Glenaladale fire, East Gippsland Shire asked us to coordinate recovery. They said, “Use your own discretion”. There was money to pay local contractors for clearing the lines: local people for local jobs was their intention, and we have worked on that principle. I've just been given a regional achiever award, but knowing I’ve helped means more.