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The Inspirational Lady of Lady’s Pass
By Deb Salvagno & Sharon Moloney
There’s nothing more inspiring than meeting an energetic, capable and high achieving woman, particularly when she radiates humility about her countless achievements. This is Pat Gill. A youthful and spirited 86 year old: CFA volunteer, mother, grandmother, nurse, farmer, business woman, shearer, fleece grader, spinner; knitter - take your pick- Pat has accomplished much in her long and fruitful life. And one of her most commendable achievements is her contribution to the Mt Camel Fire Brigade.
Pat and her family moved from the bustling suburbs of Melbourne to the tranquil hills of Lady’s Pass to ‘go fishing’ in the late 1980s. Retirement obviously wasn’t the plan as their Angora Stud, and acres of protea trees on their stunning 60 acre property kept them more than busy. On a sunny afternoon, Mick, Pat’s quietly-spoken husband spotted smoke from an adjacent property one kilometre away. He grabbed a hessian sack and marched off to help; and that was the start of their CFA journey.
Twenty-one CFA fire trucks turned out at the couple’s property that day. As the fire raged over the hill and threatened their impressive mud-brick home, Pat wondered how she could ever repay the volunteers.
‘It’s something you never forget,’ Pat says. ‘I was so thankful they saved our house and this motivated me to get involved and help avoid it happening to anyone else.'
Looking out at the lush green gardens from their cosy dining room, it’s hard to imagine the situation Pat describes. She tells the story with such calm and concentration; traits that supported her in the role she’d soon fill with the brigade.
Mick became heavily involved in CFA, serving with the Mt Camel brigade for 26 years. In 1998, when a communication’s role needed filling, Pat quickly put up her hand. ‘There were no mobile phones in those days,’ says Pat. ‘I’d phone around until we got a crew.'
The tell-tale signs of pre-digital communications are evident in Pat’s dining room. A whiteboard with hand-written phone numbers, an old UHF system and a red book with meticulous logs of all the call outs. The pride of place given to all things CFA in their dining room shows their commitment to the brigade and to their community.
‘We have a rule that we never go on holidays during fire season’, says Pat. ‘If we have to go away for a day or two, I’ll make sure another brigade member takes on the role.
‘Before mobile phones, we had an extension phone that we’d take out when we worked on the farm to ensure we were always contactable.
‘Communications is a 24/7 role and I’d stay awake until all the members were safely back at the brigade. When the truck leaves the station for a fire call, I ring the captain - Mick Hall - naming the crew on board, the time and destination. At some stage during the event contact is made with the truck to get an estimation of time of return so I can let spouses know, and also whether a relief crew may be required. If so, I start to organise in readiness for official request.'
Being involved in the brigade helped the couple get to know the local community. From 1996 until last year, they ran an annual Christmas party on their property for brigade members and the whole community. Sometimes up to 100 people would attend. From hand-delivered invitations, Santa Clause for the kids, raffles and wet weather plans, nothing was too much trouble for this energetic woman.
‘The parties helped this small, wide-spread community appreciate CFA,’ says Pat.
When asked about how she juggled her responsibilities with CFA, her family and her involvement in the mohair industry, Pat promptly responds, ‘Being involved in the CFA altered our life and it’s something I’ll never regret. It’s no good being stagnant; you just have to go flat out.'
This weekend, Pat received two awards. She knew about one of them, but the other was a surprise.
‘I have been advised that I am to receive a Distinguished Service Award at a luncheon on Saturday 23rd August, and my name will be added to the Honour Board at the station’, says Pat. ‘I feel very humble, proud, nervous and excited about the award - not only for myself but as recognising the work behind the scene for CFA women in general.'
The second award Pat received this weekend perfectly describes what she represents to other women around her. At an informal ceremony at the Eppalock Group Women Firefighters Training Day at Huntly, Pat was presented with the CFA Women’s Award for an Extraordinary Role Model.
The training day and the award were organised by another amazing woman, Karen Shedden of the Axedale brigade. Karen wanted to demonstrate how Pat has inspired other local women to achieve their best and protect their communities through their involvement with CFA.
Pat probably thinks someone else is more deserving of these awards as she’s definitely not prone to singing her own praises. But she is more than deserving, and the awards are in honour of her outstanding contributions to CFA.