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Volunteers muck in in Natimuk
As one of the largest volunteer-based organisations in the world, CFA celebrates the commitment of its 60,000 members during National Volunteer Week (12-18 May).
There are about 200 households in the township of Natimuk and roughly one third of those householders moved there for the regular pleasure of climbing Mt Arapiles and for the art-friendly community.
The all-volunteer fire brigade has benefitted from the mix with about 12 new members joining in the past year alone, many of them with a climbing background. They comfortably rub shoulders with the sheep and grain farmers who make up the majority of the 50-strong brigade. There are also three young members who started on the CFA pathway through their studies at Goroke P-12 College.
Steve Monks is a relatively new CFA member and a climber who works as a mountain guide in the Swiss Alps, the United States and the Himalayas in the northern summer.
“That means I’m available here when the fire threat is greatest,” he says.
“I heard about more and more locals in the climbing community joining CFA and I think it reached critical mass. Joining the brigade just seemed like the thing to do.
“There’s a lot of know-how in the brigade. Climbers are used to manipulating mechanical equipment so understanding how the fire trucks and water pumps work isn’t difficult. That’s even more the case for farmers who regularly operate machinery and understand the mechanics of equipment.
“Another quality that climbers and emergency service volunteers have in common is relying on each other and staying calm when confronting stressful situations.”
Sarah Natali has been a CFA member since 2009 and she’s also part of the English immigration wave to Natimuk. “If you’re a climber in the UK, you know where Natimuk is,” she says, perhaps surprising anyone not on the climbing wavelength.
“People move here for the climbing but end up staying for the community,” says Sarah. “It’s a very supportive community with that laidback Australian approach.
“What’s really satisfying in the brigade is that we have regular training sessions and all the new members are taken seriously. It really makes a difference that our efforts as volunteers are taken seriously.”
Another new member is David Sudholz who’s now one of 11 Sudholzs in the brigade. David recently moved back onto the land with his family but also remains a member of the Army Reserve.
“I worked at a training officer in the army so I’m used to red tape but I look at CFA and see flexibility. I see a professional organisation where there are training and teamwork opportunities. We’re happy with our truck. Instructions are clear and concise. People band together and get things done. There’s a lot of satisfaction.”
David was at his brother’s farm a year ago when a serious fire broke out.
“It could have burnt into Natimuk,” he continues. “In the early stages I just took a breath and knew it would be okay. People will be here soon. Before long seven fire trucks and farmers driving about 30 private units were on the scene. The response was fantastic.”
Natimuk Fire Brigade has already turned out to 20 incidents this year – a busy year. The primary risk is grass and scrub fires but the brigade also protects a nursing home, kinder and primary school.
Every two years Natimuk, population 500, hosts the three-day arts festival Nati Frinj with the next one on in 2015. As for Mt Arapiles, the climbing season peaks in autumn and spring but keen locals will climb in the shade on a summer day in the 40s. The rock surface doesn’t crumble which make it a prized climbing experience. Locals estimate that the rock offers about 3000 different climbs with something for everyone from the beginner to the experienced.
There are about four rescues done at Mt Arapiles each year, the majority following falls. While climbers from Natimuk CFA might attend those incidents, it is in support of the Arapiles Rescue Group, part of SES and based in Horsham.
The most recent rescue was front page news with a young climber wedged between two boulders as he tried out the squeeze test. Natimuk members set up lighting and ran communications and the climber was freed after about 10 hours and the generous application of olive oil.