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Community building in Benalla Group
“There are no boundaries for our brigades,” said Baddaginnie Captain Phil Rees of their close relationship with Goomalibee-Upotipotpon also in Benalla Group.
“A lot of our members have Goomalibee’s pager codes and we turn out with them. We’re a busy brigade with about 70 turnouts a year but we’re still able to help out our neighbouring brigade. I’m right on the border so I might go on our truck or Goomalibee’s.”
After six years as captain, Phil is in his last term with the next four captains already lined up. He has plenty of other irons in the fire – some literally – with a passion for blacksmithing and a forge on his farm. His shed has also hosted fire safety meetings, a wood auction to raise money for a new brigade truck, and a barbecue for local men – the Tarnook Titans – whenever the Tarnook Tarts are enjoying their own outing.
Phil has been a mentor in a 10-week student wellbeing program, run by Tomorrow Today, Benalla’s community foundation. It connects Year 9 students with adult mentors to help them set life and career goals and lead them to new sports, hobbies and professional connections. Phil also offers blacksmithing as an optional activity during the program.
Doubling as the community safety coordinator for Benalla Group, Phil helped organise a breakfast club at Baddaginnie Fire Station due to concerns about children being dropped off early to school before teachers arrived. A coordinator was appointed with funds from V/Line, Phil’s employer. The children were fed a healthy breakfast, kept busy with activities and then walked to school together. Benalla CFA volunteers and the local Victoria Police youth liaison officer talked to the students about fire safety, and their school bus was given a water salute from both Baddaginnie tankers by members who were past students of the school.
Benalla was the first group to roll out the Violet Town Red Bucket initiative with all local residents being presented with a bucket holding fire safety information and guides to help them prepare.
“It’s been really brilliant for us,” said Phil. “Baddaginnie, Goomalibee and Warrenbayne brigades along with the SES and Benalla Rural City council representatives from the Local People, Local Solutions committee, door-knocked 400 households in our areas in 2015 to pass out buckets. We had prompt cards so we all said the same thing like asking, ‘Will our truck fit down your driveway?’.
“We were backed up by 14 emergency services vehicles. It really made an impact and got households thinking. At the same time, we compiled a register of vulnerable and isolated people who need advance notice to leave.
“That’s why we live in the country. It’s that sense of belonging that means you do what you can for your neighbours because you know they’ll back you.”
The reciprocal brigade support flows from the close friendship between Phil and Goomalibee-Upotipotpon Captain Peter Bailey and their mutual community-mindedness.
Both captains have received Australia Day achievement awards for their district. As BASO Dianne Simpson said, “Those two captains and brigades do a spectacular job uniting their communities.”
There’s no community infrastructure in Peter’s brigade area other than the fire station, but that’s about to undergo a renovation with a $69,000 VESEP grant partly funding an adjoining meeting room and community hub complete with air conditioner, kitchen and toilets.
It’s a project that’s been driven for 10 years by Peter, now 12 years as the captain.
“This new room is all for the community, he said. “We’ll have Landcare meetings there, SES can use it and Benalla Juniors will be comfortable when they camp overnight.
“We haven’t had a community hall since the 1960s but every year we have a combined Christmas party with Baddaginnie and more than the entire population of Goomalibee turns up. We’ve also had shared medal presentations with the Baddaginnie and Goorambat brigades, catering for 300 people.”