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No reason to wine in Milawa
With a vineyard and its operations, a cellar door, restaurant and function centre, Brown Brothers Winery in the King Valley town of Milawa is a significant local employer only three minutes from Milawa Fire Station.
Quite a few of those employees double as CFA members who are still paid if they attend callouts during business hours.
As Brown Brothers Chief Operations Executive Aaron Haw explained it, “If we look after the local community, the local community will look after us. It’s also a commitment to the wider Victorian community. After the Black Saturday fires we had some employees away for up to a week doing CFA work and they were paid throughout.”
Bobinawarrah Captain Shane Wilson is an engineering supervisor at Brown Brothers and works alongside five other CFA members.
“If the pager goes off, we just tell colleagues that we’ve got to go,” he said. “I get the Milawa pages and used to go to Milawa if a call came in, but now that I’m captain I always go to Bobinawarrah. If it’s a bad day, we basically know that we’re available.
“I’ve been in this job 30 years and of course you do the right thing by your employer but, at Browns, supporting CFA is just the community thing to do.”
In fact, Shane remembers when Milawa fire calls went to Brown Brothers reception to be phoned across to engineering in the days when only that department’s employees crewed the truck.
Materials Team Leader Robert Green is the Taminick and North Winton captain and works in the packaging warehouse. He started on the production line in 2003 where it wasn’t so easy to just leave your position if a fire call came in. Now, however, he’s able to quickly delegate tasks when the pager goes off.
“I’ll respond 100 per cent of the time,” he said. “I probably left three times during work hours last year and about five times the year before. There have also been a few days when I haven’t come in at all because I’ve been at extended events through the night but I’ve still been paid.
“I cop a bit of flack from some of our full-time farmers for being paid when I’m at a fire call!”
And, just to show that what goes around comes around when it comes to the vagaries of bushfire, a story from Robert.
“Not long after I started at Brown Brothers, I took time off to be part of a strike team fighting fires in the nearby Greta area. I wasn't overly familiar with the region and we had come in through the back of a vineyard and helped defend it from the firefront. One of my crew asked if it was a Brown Brothers vineyard and I said, ‘I doubt it’.
“Sure enough, we exit out the front gate and there is the Brown Brothers sign. It was our Banksdale vineyard!”