Chapman Valley farm operations manager Gary Ward.

BlazeAid vollies fence out pressure from Chapman Valley farmers

Main Image: Chapman Valley farm operations manager Gary Ward. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

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Volunteers have cleared 313km of damaged fencing — just short of the distance between Geraldton and Mount Magnet — around the Chapman Valley since cyclone Seroja devastated parts of the Mid West.

Gary Ward, an operations manager at an affected farm, said the amount of work the BlazeAid volunteers had done in one month would have taken him six to eight months without their help.

“Tamara Vlahov (one of the farm’s owners) makes fresh scones and cupcakes for us whenever BlazeAid comes around. Obviously, I enjoy that,” he said through a smile. “The assistance is greatly appreciated ... when they first showed up — you should have seen it — the pressure was lifted from the farmers’ shoulders.”

Chapman Valley farm operations manager Gary Ward with Blaze Aid volunteers from around the country.
Camera IconChapman Valley farm operations manager Gary Ward with Blaze Aid volunteers from around the country. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

As of Saturday, 160 people had stayed at the BlazeAid Yuna camp since the cyclone, completing 1481 days of hard work at 66 nearby properties.

The average volunteer is more than 60 years old and they have rebuilt 68.4km of fencing.

For many volunteers, especially those with farming backgrounds, the work is about more than doing a good deed.

It connects them to an Australia-wide network of farmers who have each other’s backs in troubled times. Retired Victorian farmers Heather and Stuart McKenry are working with BlazeAid Yuna.

They have been volunteering since May but said their journey with the organisation went back years.

Farming near Warrnambool, the 2018 St Patrick’s Day bushfire hit their farm.

Blaze Aid volunteers Heather and Stuart McKenry.
Camera IconBlaze Aid volunteers Heather and Stuart McKenry. Credit: The Geraldton Guardian

Mrs McKenry said about 45 BlazeAid volunteers worked on their farm every day for two months. She estimates they donated 4500 hours of free labour.

“I cried every day they turned up,” Mrs McKenry said.

“We are still very friendly with a lot of the volunteers.”

The couple know how hard it can be to accept workers on your property after a natural disaster.

Mrs McKenry said they brought this lived experience to their volunteering, stressing the importance of “patting a farmer on the back”.

“The smiles you get at the end of the day... it makes a difference,” she said.

“Just meeting the farmers, hearing their stories and trying to help them out is very rewarding.”

Mr McKenry said he used to hate fencing, but now, among the BlazeAid camaraderie, he had started to “really enjoy it”.

“We have well and truly made lifelong friends,” he said.