Blaze Aid are here to help with River Murray flood recovery
Volunteers have arrived in the Murraylands to fix farmers’ fences – and they could do with your help.
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A year ago, the “orange angels” from Blaze Aid would have been 2.5 metres underwater.
The Ponde levee was one of the first to go during last summer’s River Murray flood, leaving paddocks submerged and farmers in crisis for the better part of a year.
When the water was finally pumped out, it left behind weeds, debris – and damaged fences.
This week, however, help arrived.
Volunteers from Blaze Aid have set up camp at the Mypolonga Combined Sports Club and, every weekday from now until the end of March, will be out and about along the Lower Murray, replacing fences on flood-affected farms.
Farmers who could do with the help should get in touch, and locals are encouraged to volunteer or donate – more on that below.
In the meantime, at Ponde on Wednesday, half a dozen volunteers worked their way around the perimeter of Nicola Evans’ property, pulling old fence-posts out over here, driving new ones in with a tractor over there, and stapling barbed wire into place.
Ms Evans said it was “awesome” to have the volunteers on site, as she and her husband would never have been able to do the job so quickly on their own.
“The flood wiped us out, cost us a fortune,” she said.
“It came through like a tsunami – the pressure was so great it took everything with it.”
When the water came in, the couple had to save their three-month-old calves by walking them along the levee bank.
The couple had only moved into the property and begun farming during COVID, running a few dairy cattle and growing hay on the floodplain.
“It’ll take us five years before we get anywhere near close to where we were,” she said.
Volunteer Steve Hewitt said Blaze Aid focused mostly on boundary fences, to stop livestock straying onto neighbouring properties.
On average, he estimated that a team would be able to clear about a kilometre of damaged fencing per day, or put up about 300 metres of new fencing.
The figure varied pretty widely depending on the state of a property and the experience level of the volunteers.
Some were ex-farmers who had fenced all their lives, or retirees who had deployed with Blaze Aid many times before in places like Pinery, Lucindale and Kangaroo Island.
Others were locals or international backpackers, full of energy and enthusiasm to learn.
No matter what, though, there was a fantastic sense of camaraderie among all the volunteers.
“It keeps us out of mischief, off the streets and out of the pubs,” octogenarian volunteer Les Sloan said with a grin.
How you can help Blaze Aid, or get their help
Back at base camp, at Mypo, joint coordinator John Tuckwell said Blaze Aid needed two groups of people to get in touch: farmers with jobs to do, and volunteers who could help do them.
“Property owners, if you need some help, ring Andy Donohue on 0477 488 841,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean we’ll be there tomorrow, but if we know what’s there, we can schedule ourselves.
“We come to a property and do an assessment with the property owner before we start, so we get an understanding of of what they’re looking for – the farmer is the boss.”
Everyone always assumed there was someone worse off than themselves, he said, but he encouraged landowners to get in touch anyway so that coordinators could make that call.
The fencing work volunteers did was of a good quality, he promised, as those with experience supervised and trained up the newcomers.
On the volunteer front, he said, Blaze Aid needed anyone who was willing to work, fit and able – not just for fencing, but for cooking and cleaning back at the camp, too.
Volunteers could pitch in for a day here and there, a week, whatever time they had.
All meals were provided, and powered sites and bathroom facilities were available for free to anyone who wanted to stay on-site.
“It’s a great group to work with, and you get a lot of satisfaction,” he said.
“We’re certainly here to build fences, but we also find we help to rebuild some lives.”
Get help: Call Andy O’Donohue on 0477 488 841 or email email@example.com.
Volunteer: Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Sue Jackson on 0409 979 111 or John Tuckwell on 0438 269 554.
More information: blazeaid.com.au/murray-bridge-1.
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