The volunteer backbone helping Queensland's flood recovery

Blaze Aid volunteers join army of helpers after Queensland floods


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The crew from A.B Paterson College on the Gold Coast help put up fences outside Winton.

The crew from A.B Paterson College on the Gold Coast help put up fences outside Winton.

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Many volunteers travelled thousands of kilometres

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Barry Thompson had been in Winton for the drought and after the floods he knew he had to come back.

"I was in Richmond in 2014, Hughenden in 2015, and Winton in 2016 doing drought recovery work," he said.

"When the floods hit I thought, I know the people up there, I better go and help them."

An army of volunteers scrambled to get to north west Queensland to lend a hand in the wake of the floods.

Mr Thompson travelled almost 2,500 kilometres from his home in Mount Gambier, South Australia, to coordinate the Winton camp for Blaze Aid.

He helped coordinate previous drought recovery efforts for Blaze Aid in outback Queensland, forging a love for the region that brought him back after the floods.

"It's an area that I really do enjoy," he said.

"When we were doing drought work we helped people around their homesteads and that sort of stuff, doing stuff they couldn't afford or just didn't get around to.

"This time it's more focused on what was damaged in the floods, with a bit of the other stuff as well."

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Many volunteers have a similar story to Mr Thompson's, travelling massive distances with nothing but the promise of a hard day's work at the end of the road.

Blaze Aid volunteer Jenny White drove across the Nullarbor from her home in Esperance, Western Australia, to join the camp at Cloncurry.

"My friend and I volunteered in 2015 after the big Esperance fires," she said.

"We formed some really good friendships, and when we heard of the disaster over here, we thought, 'What the hell. Let's pack up and go'."

With most station owners busily mustering around Cloncurry, Ms White said volunteers in that area had been focused on helping around the homestead.

"The people are maybe a bit hesitant at first, just because they don't know us. But the next thing you know it's afternoon tea and everyone is confiding in one another and listening and helping out."

Cloncurry camp coordinator Christine Male made the trip with her husband John from Gippsland in Victoria.

"You start talking to the people, and you develop a rapport with them, and your heart breaks for them," she said.

"What is important to remember is that the flood was preceded by six or seven years of drought.

"There was hardship, and really tough times, and then euphoria when the rain came, and then the devastation of it not stopping.

"It must've been one hell of a rollercoaster."

Just one example of the flooding aftermath in north west Queensland where the interior of a farm house resembles a disaster zone.. Photo: Blaze Aid

Just one example of the flooding aftermath in north west Queensland where the interior of a farm house resembles a disaster zone.. Photo: Blaze Aid

Students show their mettle

The graziers around Winton were initially a little reluctant about the help being offered by students from A.B Paterson College on the Gold Coast.

But any doubts were put to bed after the students put up more than 50 kilometres of fencing in the space of a week.

Twenty-two students and 10 adults made the trip to Winton to volunteer with flood recovery efforts.

Blaze Aid Winton camp coordinator Barry Thompson said the town was quickly impressed by the students' work ethic.

"In a week we did 50 kilometres of fencing - pulling up and straightening old stuff, and putting up new fencing as well. It was just great," he said.

College director of operations Tim Grosser said it was one of the best things he had been involved in across 25 years of teaching.

"The feeling when we arrived was some people were a bit hesitant to have school kids from the Gold Coast out on the farm.

"But after a day or two, word had travelled around and they were wanting us to go and work on other places."

Queensland Country Life has documented this story and plenty of others in our souvenir edition available on Thursday, May 30.

Be sure to pick up your copy to commemorate this monumental event in our state's history.

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