Community spirit shines through

February’s dry heat has stirred emotion for Redesdale residents with memories still fresh of Black Saturday that was almost 10 years ago to the day.
For third generation farmer Andrew Campbell it’s knowing the destruction a fire of that intensity can leave in its wake that “sets your teeth on edge”.
“It roars through in a matter of hours and then there are months and months of cleaning up. I would hate to go through it again. I don’t know if I could,” he said.
Andrew chose to stay and defend his property that day and sent his wife Lisa, with children Tahlia, 10, and Hamish, 8, to safer ground as part of their fire plan.
“It was no surprise that it was going to be such a bad day – they’d been talking it up all week,” Andrew recalled.
“By the time I got the heads up about the fire front it was already on the property. It was well engulfed.”
Smoke had fast filled the sky and firetrucks loaded with volunteers had taken up the fight at the property alongside Andrew in his private unit. Time was illusory. When the firetrucks cleared, the landscape was beyond recognition.
“It was just desolate. There were no trees standing, or if they were they were on fire,” Andrew said.
“It was hard to get your bearings – nothing looked the same. There were no fences, no boundaries, it was unrecognisable really.”
Acres of burnt paddocks didn’t leave much hope for his sheep. Andrew had made every effort earlier to bring his sheep close to house for safety but there was a flock of 100 ewes and two rams that had to be left behind.
“I virtually lost the whole lot in just the first wave of the fire going through,” he said.
“About 80 of them would have died instantly… the ones that did survive had their feet burnt so badly they could hardly walk.”
Andrew had found 20 of the sheep wandering the burnt paddocks and was given no choice but to put them down. A vet determined they’d inhaled too much ash and hot air to survive.
The heartbreaking loss included 500 acres of grazing property and 18kms of fencing, but the family home and shedding survived – even the second threat of a wind-change that put it in direct line of the fire.
Andrew had not long taken over the family farm from his father and was determined to do everything he could to defend it. Three of his neighbours lost their homes.
Andrew said the support the community showed following the devastation was incredible.
“Volunteers came in almost straight away and started helping out,” he said.
“The good thing to come out of it was the community spirit. I have been remembering how good and how helpful people were. At the time I would have liked to have thanked them more than I did.”
A community-minded person, Andrew was also involved in the recovery efforts. He was part of a fencing team that helped restore boundaries, paddocks and a sense of normality to the region.
His property also became a collection point for stockfeed and various other donated goods that he and a team helped to distribute to those in need.
Still an active member of his local brigade, Andrew said there had been many positive changes made since the Black Saturday fires to improve communications and firefighting efforts including access to fire aircraft.

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