Even amid the COVID-19 crisis, BlazeAid found a way to support Australia’s fire-affected communities, with many groups able to continue under travel restrictions.
And the camaraderie has been great among RVers, backpackers and other community members supporting farmers in a united cause.
“We have been here since last November and we were able to work through,” explains Christine Mayal, who leads the camp at Wingham, about an hour south of Port Macquarie.
Since then, the Wingham camp has installed more than 200km fencing and cleared more than 100km for the local community.
A NATIONWIDE STRATEGY
As restrictions rapidly evolved, BlazeAid developed safety measures for their camps, which they roll out Australia-wide where required.
“We didn’t accept any new volunteers [at our camp during travel restrictions]. One designated shopper handled the shopping. Everyone handed over their shopping lists.
“We are aware of the community that we’re visiting and are very concerned for the safety of our volunteers.
“And the farmers, too. They have to trust us to invite us onto their properties,” Christine explains.
LEARNING FROM OTHER CULTURES
Although it varies according to camps, at Wingham Camp, the volunteer ratio is about 50 percent backpackers and 50 percent volunteers.
“We did Christmas in July, because some of our volunteers reckon Christmas in Summer is ‘roobish’. We ate pecan pie on Independence Day, and on Australia Day we had a cricket match.
“Anything like that where we can share experiences keeps the friendship together. That’s part of the secret,” Christine explains.
Their ANZAC Day celebrations were particularly special.
“We got up before sunrise. We remembered our fallen soldiers and they thought of theirs, we made handmade wreaths. We had a lot of New Zealand so we lowered both flags.
“We are as inclusive as we can be. We try to learn from each others’ culture.
FRIENDS FOR LIFE
Overall, her Wingham crew comprise a great mix of people. But when she first took on the camp, Christine was nervous how she’d cope with the younger volunteers.
But on the whole, she has found them to be hard-working and respectful.
“They are on the other side of the world, a lot of them are just missing mum and dad.
“We have had quite a few long-term volunteers that have been here for many months. Many backpackers stay longer than their 88 days because of the travel restrictions.
“I think it is a wonderful testament to their character,” explains Christine.
Lifelong friendships are formed.
“They’re like our global grandchildren—they’re forever in our hearts. And the thankyou cards they write to you, it just makes you do a little happy dance.”
When they go they say things like “I am going to miss annoying you.”
A PLACE FOR EVERYONE
Many hands make light work, as they say. It’s core to the camp’s success.
Travellers camp in their caravans, tents or motorhomes at a communal site free of charge, donating as little or as much of their time as they’re able to give.
“One thing that surprises me is when someone rings up and says ‘the wife won’t come because there’s nothing for her to do’—the truth is, if they come together and there is always plenty to do.
“You really do get more out of it than you give,” says Christine.
- BlazeAid volunteer, Bookham 2013