While Springhurst is home to just 196 people, the town’s CFA brigade is proving community spirit shines brighter out in the country, with an inspiring 62 members dedicated to protecting their community.
Made up of farmers, tradespeople, teachers, bookkeepers and postal workers, there is no shortage of skill diversity among the group.
First formed in 1910, this devotion continues to be echoed throughout all aspects of the brigade, with social interaction and community awareness at the forefront of activities and member personalities.
For Captain Stuart Maxwell, his arrival in Springhurst in 2009 saw him immediately immersed in the firefighting community before even stepping foot in the brigade.
“I came up from Melbourne and we bought the old Springhurst Butter Factory which used to have the steam equipment that powered the fire siren,” he said.
“Although I’m not the most experienced firefighter, I’ve done many leadership roles through work which hopefully has brought about some good things for the brigade."
With hopes to increase its modest number of volunteers, perhaps the brigade's biggest driver for new members has been the formation of a social club that meets at the town hall every Friday night.
“For a small town it seems bizarre, but we get 50 to 70 people each week and it’s a really good opportunity to get to know people in the community, learn local information, but to also potentially recruit and fundraise," Stuart said.
“It’s made us very financially viable, and we recently got a grant for a new medium tanker which is all part of the social structure set-up at the brigade – to raise those funds. So, we are very fortunate.”
Springhurst’s 1st Lieutenant Liam Ellery said social outings and fundraising events are at the heart of the brigade and something that unites the Springhurst community.
“On those Friday nights at the hall, the brigade social club runs some meals with various community organisations. It’s a good little community-spirited event,” he said.
“We just did the Good Friday Appeal, and between the collection, donations and raffle tickets, we raised just over $4,000. For a little town, it’s a great result.”
“We’ve got a strong brigade and it’s because of stalwarts like Brian (Dunne), Harvey (Benton) and Kevin (Atteridge) who were recently awarded National Medals and respective Clasps, that have helped create that strength and backbone to continue to work on,” Stuart said.
“We’re a really close bunch. Socially we interact really well which gives us good stead in being able to communicate properly with each other on the fire ground and respect each other.
“I’m very proud of our brigade. You always come across many different personalities throughout brigades, but I think we have the perfect balance."
The brigade also meets for training on the first Monday of every month and for regular brigade management team meetings.
With an impressive track record at the Junior and Senior State Rural Championships, having won both titles in 2022 and placing well in 2023, the brigade is reaping the benefits of boosting volunteer numbers both on and off the competition track.
“The junior program that we run with the competitions has seen its rewards in bringing through junior firefighters, but we’re also seeing some of the parents of these kids showing an interest in wanting to join the brigade and build it,” Stuart said.
“We also have numerous women who compete in those competitions which will help build up the women firefighters in our brigade, as we just have two at the moment.
“But we do have a great deal of women in non-operational roles. We’ve got Robyn Tanner as 3rd lieutenant and training officer, who was also the first woman in our brigade to become a lieutenant, and Rebecca Saward as our secretary and Robyn Bottrell as our treasuer."
1st Lieutenant Liam Ellery knows just how beneficial the junior programs can be for both individuals and brigades, having started out at Bendigo brigade in its running team at 14 years old. Now at 40, he's the leading candidate to take on the role of Springhurst's next captain.
“Initially when I was a junior, I was doing the running competition, and then at 17 I did my Minimal Skills because I wanted to do some sort of volunteering. I thought firefighting was the cool looking one,” he said.
“I wanted to give something back to the community and I think it’s the best thing that suits my personality. I’m a roof plumber and I run my own business, so I enjoy labour intensive work and am used to the heat.
“It’s really positive to see the running team out there competing well and that the engagement is still high. It’s a great entry into becoming a firefighter, using your skill set, and getting to know others in your local community."
Also as the brigade's community safety coordinator, Liam has his eyes set on specific objectives leading into winter, specifically looking after those who are most vulnerable.
“Our focus will be getting smoke alarms into some of our older residents’ properties in town,” he said.
“It’s something we try to do to look after those in our community who are unable to install or check smoke alarms themselves.
“Something I love about CFA is just being able to help someone when they’re having a bad day. We get to lend a hand, whether that is for a motor vehicle accident, grassfire or something as small as installing smoke alarms.”