South-west St Patrick’s Day fires two years on

Today marks two years since the St Patrick's day fires that tore through the south-west.


Bostocks Creek Fire Brigade member Betty Robilliard helped support her community by taking care of livestock from other farms while the fires were burning. 

More than 40,000 hectares were destroyed in fires at Gazette, Garvoc, Terang, Hawkesdale and Camperdown, and livestock losses surpassed 10,000 across more than 219 farms.

Both Betty and her husband Lance have been members of Bostocks Creek brigade for more than 20 years. Betty is also a brigade administration support officer (BASO) for CFA.

“I was part of the first callout to the fire by Lake Bullen Merri, where extreme fire conditions made responding difficult,” Betty said. “Once we arrived by the lake we could see the fires all the way at Terang. They were massive. We knew we had to try to control them otherwise they were going to threaten both Camperdown and Cobden.

“The wind was exceptionally strong and we had a high tanker. Even getting into the truck was a challenge. 

“We were at the top of the hill waiting for the fire to run up, I was worried the tanker would roll over,” Betty added. “Although it was overwhelming to see we all felt we had been trained for this.”

Betty and Lance offered the land on their farm to take in cattle from other farms impacted by the fires. Two farmers asked for help and two groups of cattle were brought to Betty and Lance’s farm.

“I had planned leave from work before the fires went through. So instead of taking time off we spent our mornings feeding cattle. We would then spend the day travelling around the community alongside other CFA members and DELWP. Our focus was to find any hot spots and report them to the local incident control centre so they could predict conditions and inform the community. We’d then come home and check on the cattle before bed.

“There were some really long days,” Betty said. “The animals had been through a lot of shock because of the fires, so they needed a lot of care. We had the cattle for over three months and even ended up calving three.

“Supporting your community is just what you do. There are a lot of people who've done amazing work with the community. It’s important to keep supporting and visiting fire-affected areas long after the fires are out.”

Author: Holly Penketh