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Rushworth's engaging Christmas
Christmas Eve has long been a special time in the northern Victorian town of Rushworth; for more than eighty years, the town's Fire Brigade has hosted a monster Fete that is hugely popular with children and adults alike. Several generations of locals have supported the fete over the years, and family groups comprising kids, parents, grand-parents are a welcome hallmark of this alcohol-free family evening.
The Fete kicks off with a sausage sizzle, and features both a generously-prized spinning wheel, jumping giraffe and dodgem cars. Topping the bill is - of course - Santa, who remains as popular as ever with youngsters.
Running an event of this scale places heavy demands on the Brigade, whose twenty-something members are always on call, especially in hot summer conditions with locally high grassfire fuel loads.
For the past two years, Rushworth's SES Unit has partnered with the Brigade, allowing more attractions to be offered while ensuring event continuity if a call-out was received. The local SES members enthusiastically supported the 2012 Fete, and ran both the BBQ and Santa brilliantly, allowing the Brigade to concentrate on the spinning wheel.
Nicknamed "Wallie's Wheel" after the local Brigade captain, the spinning wheel offers worthwhile prizes including fire-safe home products such as Extinguishers and Fire Blankets.
The SES also ran a very popular raffle which featured a large screen television set, home theatre sound system and a huge stocking stuffed with toys and other family goodies. The raffle was won by Rushworth Lion Maureen McCarthy, who generously donated part of the prize back to be re-raffled.
This year, the Brigade also invited other community organisations to participate, and was delighted when the Rushworth & District Lions Club and the Rushworth Branch of the CWA readily accepted. Lions would run a wood-raffle, and the CWA would offer two dollar Lucky Dips with prizes for all ages and genders.
Each organisation retained its earnings to assist with its own future community activities.
Support was also offered from the Waranga News, the district's fortnightly Community Newspaper, and from Rushworth Community House, which made its graphics design and printing capabilities available to help promote the event.
There was even time for Brigade members to spread some cheer at the Waranga Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home, much to the delight of those whose Christmas was not able to be spent in their own homes due to age or infirmity.
The Fete is the Rushworth Fire Brigade's premier annual Community Engagement event, attracting many times more visitors to the station than attend the Fire Ready Victoria briefings. Recognising the value of this interaction, CFA Headquarters and District 20 also supported the Fete, sponsoring wide-scale media advertising, providing plastic CFA helmets and colouring materials for kids, and a wide range of fire-related publications for their elders.
In the hours leading up to the Fete, a team of show-bag stuffers toiled in the Fire Station Radio Room, filling white and red CFA carry-bags until they ran out. The local IGA supermarket generously donated some plastic shopping bags, and the stuffing continued apace.
Eventually, more than 150 bags were given out. In a town of 1000 people in around 250 homes, that means that the fire-safety material and its critical community messages has reached more than half the population. That is an extrordinary return on investment, and long may it remain so.
One especially welcome observation this year was the gradual change in the demographic of Fete visitors. Many young couples and their toddlers participated this year, significantly more than in recent years. We suspect that the widespread promotion of the event in local media has made it a "must do" on Christmas Eve.
The Fete also gave Brigade members a chance to ask if residents had personal fire plans, and were pleasantly surprised to learn that many had heeded warnings over the past few years, and would now leave the area on Extreme or Code Red days. Given Rushworth's Extreme rating on the Victorian Fire Risk Register, the welcome change probably reflects both the Brigade's Community Engagement activities and those of the Home Bushfire Assesment Service (HBAS) teams that have visited the town over the past couple of years.
Christmas Fetes are a wonderful way for Brigades to engage with their communities, and to partner with other local service organisations to make each December 24 an evening to remember. Their format can be tuned to meet local resources and requirements, and if the Rushworth experience is any guide, they are the very best way for Brigades to raise their profile within local communities.
Not surprisingly, the story of the 2012 Rushworth Christmas Fete is best told with pictures, so here are some highlights of a very satisfying and successful evening.