Many hands help farmers recover from bushfires

By Dairy News

WITH 21 camps in NSW and more to open, BlazeAid is well and truly on the ground, helping farmers in recovery from bushfire.

According to BlazeAid founder, Kevin Butler, the organisation is hosting an average 1000 volunteers each day, clearing properties and erecting new fences. Each fencing team has at least one experienced fencer with them.

“Conservatively, we’ve erected 500 km of fencing between Kangaroo Island and northern NSW,” Mr Butler said.

“We’ve cleaned up 700 km of damaged fences. Both figures are probably a lot more. The figures are collated at each camp every day and we will total them up at the end of June.”

It’s people power that returns the favour. Many volunteers have been recipients of BlazeAid efforts in the past 10 years, after floods and other bushfires.

“For every 12 volunteers, we do a kilometre of fencing in a day. In January and February, we’ve done 60 days of work,” Mr Butler said.

An updated map of the existing BlazeAid camps is online, at

More than 400 properties have registered for help from the BlazeAid Cobargo camp, where more than 6000 volunteer hours have already been completed, including erecting fences for dairy farmer Tim Salway.

There is an estimated more than 20 000 km of fencing remaining to be completed, in the next six to nine months, in the Cobargo region.

BlazeAid at work in the Cobargo district, cleaning up sites and erecting fences. There is an estimated nine months work ahead of the volunteers.

Feed and milking support

The Lions Clubs Need for Feed program has also been active, delivered $5 million worth of donated hay to bushfire affected areas in Victoria and NSW. In the Bega Valley, that is on top of donations from local dairy farmers and feed merchants to bushfire-affected dairy farmers.

Michael Shipton answered the call from Bega Cheese and donated a shed of hay to other dairy farmers in the Bega Valley.

“Bega Cheese organised the trucks and freight and sorted it all out. I only had to open up my shed,” Mr Shipton said.

Paying back a debt was high on the agenda for Michael Shipton when the New Year’s Day bushfires hit the Bega Valley on December 30.

Four years ago, Michael and Ancret Shipton, of Candelo, NSW, lost 70 cows to facial eczema. Quaama dairyfarmers Richard and Debbie Platts turned up with 45 cows to add to the Shipton herd.

“They turned up with 45 milkers and gave them to us,” Mr Shipton said.

So when the Shipton dairy farm escaped harm from these bushfires but their neighbours, family and friends were reeling, with livestock, fences, pasture and buildings burned, Mr Shipton jumped in to help. The young family offered its full hay shed to local dairy farmers.

“The two most distressing things for a dairy farmer are not being able to milk and not being able to feed your cows,” he said.

“It was easy to say, go to my shed.”

Bega Cheese organised the trucks, covered the cost of freight and co-ordinated delivery to 20 of its affected suppliers. Mr and Mrs Shipton also paid for a B-double of oaten hay to be brought in from Brown Mountain and distributed among fellow dairy farmers.

“We paid for the hay and our transporter, Belubula Valley Hay from Canowindra, covered the cost of freight,” he said.

He and his farm worker, Jeremy Spindler, and electrician, Rod Camilleri, took the Shiptons’ mobile generator on tour. The 25KVA stand-alone generator, on its own trailer, is normally used to power the centre pivot. They also took jerry cans of fuel with them so other farmers could boost their own supplies.

“The generator is quite handy around the farm. We went to four dairies and Rod wired in the generator and we helped milk the cows,” Mr Shipton said.

“Everyone only missed one milking, before the power was back on.

“Then Rod went back and rewired their dairies so they were back to normal.”

Dairy farmer Tim Salway has benefited from the assistance of BlazeAid volunteers.

Friends and business pitch in

Mr Shipton and Mr Spindler also spent two days helping friends, Aaron and Emma Salway and Tim and Leanne Salway, at Cobargo, whose brother and father, Patrick and Robert Salway, died in the bushfires. All of them have dairy farms hit by bushfires and losses include a considerable number of dairy cows.

“They have a lot to deal with and Jeremy and I went up there for two days, cleaning up and fencing. We’ll go back to give them more help soon,” Mr Shipton said.

“Because of the help we received from the Platts, we wanted to give back. We got to the Salways immediately because they needed help.

“It was important to help people straightaway.”

Bega Cheese field officers have been assisting local dairy farmers, with the company quick to organise fodder, fuel, generators, water and other supplies, and getting road access to pick up milk. Dairy farmers were also reassured they would be paid for the milk they had to dump before a milk truck could get to their farm.

Defence force provides water safety

Heavy rainfall in the region has impacted water supplies, with the Brogo Dam spilling in mid-February. But the rainfall brought heavy sediment and debris out of the catchment and the water from Brogo Dam was declared unsafe.

Up to a million litres per day of water was being carted from Bega and Level Four water restrictions were introduced.

Enter the Australian Defence Force, on February 18. The ADF has established a water purifying and desalination system on Brogo One Reservoir for the Brogo-Bermagui region. It is a similar system to ones the ADF installs overseas in disaster recovery scenarios.

A similar operation is under way on Kangaroo Island.

Farmer Rod Daisley, of Tumbarumba, received a delivery of 15 000 litres of water for one of his farm dams from the RAAF.

The Brogo River catchment is primarily for agricultural needs and household use. A second water purification and desalination system was installed at Brogo Dam, in late February.

The responsible water authority is seeking a permanent solution to filtering the water.

ADF personnel have also been assisting BlazeAid, providing personnel and engineers to deconstruct and erect fencing, particularly in the public-private land interface.

The ADF has completed fodder drops in the district, with more than 21 600 kg of hay delivered to NSW farmers, of a total 1 344 075 kg freighted by air and road to farmers.

They have also been active in delivering water to farm dams. Farmer, Rod Daisley, of Tumbarumba, received a delivery of 15 000 litres of water for one of his farm dams.

Bega Valley Shire is continuing to organise community meetings to support farmers and residents in its region during the long bushfire recovery phase.