Stewart McArthur - Ladies & Gentlemen
Could I please welcome you to the Stretton Group Open Forum.
On behalf of the Stretton Group can I say that we are absolutely delighted to see so many people coming to join us to discuss the recent bushfires and some of the problems associated.
We find the spread of interest and almost the air of excitement that this little forum has generated to be most encouraging.
From the outset could I thank Gary Morgan and Genevieve Morgan for allowing us to come to their very prestigious premises here in 401 Collins Street. Gary, most of us havenít been to Collins Street because weíve been out fighting the fires. So we are delighted to be here and for allowing us to join you here.
Can I just say, as a demonstration of the commitment to this issue, Mr John Mulligan has come all the way from Genoa which is out as far East Gippsland that you can get. I would like to acknowledge and thank you for coming all that way. He hasnít been burnt out yet but itís only a matter of time.
John Mulligan Ė I must correct you, I came from xxxxxxxxx
Stewart McArthur Ė By way of opening remarks, can I just say the background of the Stretton Group. The Stretton Group was formed in 2003. It really emerged from the House of Representatives Report Ė A Charred Nation where that Committee moved around the country here, north east Victoria, Canberra, east Gippsland and took 517 written submissions and heard a great number of witnesses.
So the group was formed to continue the argument about fire, the environment and fire suppression. One of the first things the group did was to challenge the Esplin Report and we are indebted to Allan Myers, QC who is here tonight, and I put on the public record that Allan provided a pro-bono advice and opinion which made sure the Esplin Report did not continue to be the standard work on the bushfires.
Allan Myers made sure that that was a forward report and a fair amount of that evidence did not stand up to public scrutiny.
This open forum is basically to canvas some of the issues that the Stretton Group have advocated over a number of years. Our position is if you lock up National Parks, as all State and Federal Governments have done, you should make sure the management is accountable, feral animals are kept under control and of course that bushfires are controllable due to proper fuel reduction burning techniques.
Particularly the number of people here and in the Federal Inquiry, the number of people who were grievously affected by the fires that started on public land. We think that is an outrageous situation where a public instrumentality which controls public land can burn out private land holders and our 4 speakers tonight, I think will able demonstrate some of those problems which they saw first hand.
We challenge the ability of the Department of Sustainability to do the job, there have been some challenges to the CFA which many of you are aware of. The fires that broke out in the Grampians, and we have some maps there, are a replica of what happened in 2003. The information that the Stretton Group is receiving is that lightning strikes in Mt Lubra were allowed to develop to a major fire. Likewise the outbreak in the Brisbane Ranges near Anakie had a similar background. The Moondara fires in Gippsland remained in the National Park so private landholders were not affected.
Can I just say that we have members of the media here. Our 4 speakers are happy to go on the public record. It would be our intention that we would have a edited copy of the proceedings and what our speakers have said.
The outline of our meeting tonight is that we will have Jeremy Upton from Yarram Park will speak for 10 minutes, Daryl Ferry from Brisbane Ranges for 10 minutes then we will have 15 minutes of discussion, then Robert Cooke from the Brisbane Ranges and Simon Armytage from Dunkeld will give their version of events.
Then we will open up the Open Forum, you are entitled to make a public statement, only for 3 minutes about your view. Gary Morgan wants to make an hour's speech, but we will restrain him a little bit. Hopefully we will complete the proceedings in good time.
Could I just get the Members of the Stretton Group to introduce themselves, so you will know who they are. They have a little badge on which has a red background which we think is quite appropriate. First is Simon Paton, former farmer from north east Victoria.
Simon Paton Ė Iím a farmer from north east. It is very gratifying to see all of you here tonight and thanks a million for turning up. This is just another chapter of what we faced in 2003, only itís 2006, so who can make infinite wisdom. Thank you for coming and we look forward to making a good report.
Stewart McArthur Ė Athol Hodgson
Athol Hodgson Ė Iím an ex chief fire officer for Conservation, Forest and Lands Victoria. Just pissed off at the moment about the way fire management is going in this State. I would like to thank all those amongst you and there are quite a few who helped me get this show together whilst Stewart was running the Australian Wheat Board shemozzle whilst Stewart was in Canberra.
For those of you who are interested, thatís a map of the Alpine fires in 2003. My apologies to the people from the Brisbane Ranges as I could only produce an iddy biddy map of their fire. The Grampians one, which I am indebted to Gavan Jamieson for. That is the Grampians and inside that red line is the fire boundary of the fire. If you would like to come over here you could see the size and origin of Saturday 21st January, 2006. It actually started on Friday 20th January. Probably on Thursday 19th January. Thatís where it was on Saturday. On 26th thatís it in full flight and thatís the final area. Thank you Stewart.
Stewart McArthur Ė Thank you Athol. David Packham
David Packham Ė Iím David Packham. Iím a fire researcher since 1962. Iím also a Senior Research Fellow in Geography at Monash University and Iím really passionately believe that itís about time we had, what I want to call, what the Western Australians call, green fire in our environment rather than the black fire that we are now getting.
I am also rather startled at the lack of government response, because if you take that north east fire and shift them into the areas just to the east of Melbourne and instead of having places like Omeo, you have Healesville, Doncaster and Templestowe, and the effect upon the State probably would exceed any capacity of any terrorist and yet we get no concrete positive government action to prevent it.
Stewart McArthur Ė Bill Middleton
Bill Middleton Ė Iím the elder statesman of this young group. Iíve spent life in forestry, conservation, worked when I retired with the Victorian Conservation Trust and supervised the xxxxx plans and now involved in this little exercise and still as fit as ever, I hope and will continue to be involved until we get some changes.
Stewart McArthur Ė Dr Peter Attiwill
Dr Peter Attiwill Ė thank you. Iíve worked in Forest Ecology for about 40 years. The ecology of particularly the mountain ash forests depends on fire. It seems to me that in science we know a lot about fire, the evolution in Australia of flora and fauna and yet when it comes to the test we donít do much about it in our management plans. The xxxx fires, the devastating fires, the intense fires we had are simply bad for diversity, let alone ecologically good and these are our forests, these are our national parks and through the Stretton Group and I would thank Stewart McArthur for his unceasing efforts in keeping the Stretton Group up and going. Itís through the Stretton Group I hope we can do, and through forums such as this, I hope we can do something about it.
Stewart McArthur Ė I think at this stage, could I please introduce our first speaker Ė Jeremy Upton, who is the Manager of Yarram Park at the foot hills of the Grampians. He suffered personally from the devastation of those fires. He will give you his own personal background and how he found that outbreak. He has had smoke in his nostrils, so to speak. He was there on the spot and I think he has some most interesting things to say. So would you please welcome, Jeremy Upton
Jeremy Upton Ė Stewart McArthur, MP, Member for Corangamite, the Stretton Group committee, ladies and gentlemen.
I first came to Yarram Park in 1984. The property is home to 12 families, many children and a boundary of about 18 kms with the Grampians National Park on both our northern and western sides.
At that time, along with many neighbours we not only took responsibility for our own property in fire prevention work, but assisted Parks Victoria and DSE with fuel reduction work through the National Park. For many years now, despite continual requests every year from local CFA brigades, there has been minimal fire prevention and suppression work carried out in the Park.
If we landholders take responsibility for our own property each year, every year at our own expense for fire prevention, why does Parks Victoria take minimal responsibility for their own property? What assistance are they now going to five farmers after such devastation that started with the fire on their own property? If a fire started on one of our own properties, where no preventative work was done at all and devastated National Park, I can only guess at the severe repercussions that would occur.
On Sunday 22 January the fire that began, and was reported on the previous Thursday, swept through Yarram Park burning 7400 acres and devastated the entire district. We, along with many others, lost much livestock, over 100 kms of fencing and very nearly 2 staff members. The fire did claim 2 lives, a father and son.
Many livelihoods were destroyed, some will never recover, and others will take years to put pack the pieces with the little that they have. What responsibility for this fire and the heartache it has caused are Parks and DSE going to take?
The fire which was reported late on Thursday, 19th January was burning out of control by Sunday morning and was abandoned by DSE fire-fighters around 10 a.m. Why was there minimal reaction by Parks and DSE to the initial lightning strike on the Thursday? Why was there no attempt to suppress the tree that had been hit by lightning?
Early on the Friday morning DSE indicated to CFA that the area was inaccessible yet some of DSE crews are trained to be put in such places by helicopters. Where were all the helicopters and where were all the water bombers on Friday morning? Why was there xxxxx sky cranes sitting in Parramatta heliport, Sydney on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and only gone by Saturday afternoon?
It had been well reported that the approaching Sunday was to be a severely bad day. High temperatures, strong winds and most were aware of the potential risks. Knowing this, why was there not an all out attempt on Friday morning to suppress the fire?
At the Griffin Track fire which started on Thursday 22nd December again in National Park and against our western boundary, 4 helicopters and 2 planes water bombed the fire for nearly 2 days. The Friday was almost as bad a day as the Sunday of the Mt Lubra fires. Its huge winds and high temperatures. However the fire was contained with relatively minimal damage, burning about 180 hectares. It had been hit hard and fast by water bombers and, of greater significance, the fire had burnt into an area that was cold burnt the previous year and it stopped.
Huge quantities of potential fuel had been removed by the cold burn earlier that year. If there was ever an example of cold burning to suppress fuel, this was one. Where were all these water bombing aircraft that stopped the Griffin Track fire that should have been at Mt Lubra on the Friday morning?
Apart from the very minimal attempt to reduce Park fuel, what are DSE doing about water storage to fight these potential fires, like the ones which have just devastated the district. I contacted Geoff Evans of DSE in regard to this matter following the Griffin Track fire. All farmers are critically low on water supplies and for many years water has been sourced from the nearest accessible dams for water supplies.
If the Griffin Track fire really got going the small depleted farm dams would have been totally inadequate. The response from DSE in regard to a pro-active approach to additional water supplies was Ė next time there is a fire, we will address the situation. F
our weeks later, after the worst fire ever recorded in the National Park, what are DSE and Parks Victoria going to do about the water supply? Tuesday 24th January, following that Sunday afternoon, Parks and DSE decided to do a back burn on the Dunkeld-Halls Gap Road fearing the coming Thursday from all weather reports was to be another frightful day. A quick fill pump was set up at the Wannon Bridge with the water supply below. No bigger than a small swimming pool and it had to feed a dozen or more slip on units from the DSE.
Aware this back burn was to take place, I travelled with the owners of Yarram Park to the site of the proposed back burn. We were obviously concerned and wanted to get an understanding of the situation, where the entire western boundary was very much exposed to potential fire. We were promptly told by DSE to get out of the area. That is was none of our business. We had only days before lost 7400 acres and nearly 2 men.
And an area to our immediate west was about to be lit up with nothing more than a 4 metre road as the fire break, that separated the burnt area from a huge expanse of unburnt bush. Of course it was our concern. In the middle of summer, with the fire still burning out of control, Parks and DSE are prepared to lit up bush to suppress fuel. Only last week another area in the Victoria Valley was lit up to reduce fuel.
Such adverse conditions where the effect on flora and fauna will be far worse, why in the hell arenít Parks prepared to do extensive fuel suppression in far safer and kinder autumn conditions? Two lives lost, countless livelihoods destroyed or severely damaged, countless flora and fauna lost, when is DSE and Parks Victoria going to take ownership and responsibility for their own property? What are they going to do to prevent such a disaster occurring again?
A long time ago we used to look at the Grampians in awe of their beauty. Several families and children at Yarram Park, have for many years looked at the Grampians over summer with fear of what devastation they might cause, due to the lack of or minimal fire prevention. That fear was rightly justified this summer on Sunday 22nd January.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you very much Jeremy Upton for your very forthright, detailed description of the experiences you had and the problems you are facing.
Could I just indicate that after Daryl Ferryís speech we will have 15 minutes of question on those two presenters and statements. Could I just introduce Daryl and say how pleased we are to have him with us. He was down there at Anakie and the Brisbane Ranges. As I understand it he did a sterling job, acting without orders by Parks or CFA and preparing a break on the western part of the Brisbane National Park to protect the farmers. So like Jeremy heís been in the smoke and he has been in the fire and he has been disobeying orders and Iím delighted to introduce Daryl Ferry.
Daryl Ferry Ė Stewart, ladies and gentlemen. My nameís Daryl Ferry and I live next to the Brisbane Ranges and in the Barwon Water catchment area for 42 years. Iím not much good at this speaking so you will have to be fairly patient with me.
There has not been a fire for around 56 years through the Brisbane Ranges until this one we experienced a couple of weeks ago. When the Forestry Commission managed the forestry, the maintenance was always done. The water points were cleaned out, the roads were kept opened up.
Since the Parks have taken over control, all the water points have silted up with bark and debris, tracks have over grown. The roads on the maps in the Park, are the roads and the tracks donít correspond with the maps that they put out. Some of the maps. So if anyone comes in from another area, it makes it pretty hard to know where they are. Along the Butchers Track, which is a track between the reservoirs, Stony Creek Reservoirs and Anakie, when the Forestry Commission took control out there they had a break of about 2 chain.
If the fire came in from the north they could almost fight it along that area before if came out, but since Parks have taken over the trees have grown right back across the road edge and it has become a real problem, I believe. The fire was supposed to have started on the Saturday by lightning. We were feeding sheep on the Friday evening between 5 and 6 oíclock when the storm came through and the lightning was hitting down all in the Brisbane Ranges and thatís when I believe the fire started in Anakie on Friday evening.
We got the first call from Robert Cooke at about 9.30 a.m. when he rang my wife that there was a fire in Lees Road. Parks seemed to keep everyone when the brigades came along. They said they had it under control. Every one that was willing were turned away. Saturday night about 10.30 p.m. my wife and I drove down onto Lees Road. There were 5 Parks utilities with generators and lights just along Lees Road, the fire was still burning through the bush and nothing was being done and the local brigade wanted to get in there, to try and clean things up.
We offered to put two machines in Ė two dozers, we run a small earth moving business as well Ė we were refused. They had a dozer in earlier in the day and that was moved on. It was Mark Thompson from Staughton Vale, down from Anakie, earth moving contractor. They told him to take his machine out, down Lees road off Grange Creek Road, he could get out that way.
And Mark said he didnít think he could get through unless he knew the track was okay. Mark got so far down the little creek and he couldnít get around the corner with the float with the dozer on the back so he had to unload the dozer, cut the corner off the road and then clear a turning circle to get out. This took around ĺ hour.
The Parks blokes were jumping up and down because he had to knock trees down. If the fire had of kept going he would have been locked in there. I talked to a policeman on the Sunday about putting a dozer in when he called him home and I said what would happen if we put a dozer in to put some breaks through and he said if you are protecting yours and other peopleís property he didnít think that they could do anything about it. So on the Sunday evening we decided to put 3 bulldozers in.
2 oíclock in the morning and a local farmer came in with his own fire unit and a utility to back us up. The next morning we went back at 8 a.m. and stayed until 3.30 p.m. No else was around that west side until Robert got onto the CFA Geelong to stirred the possum down there. Next thing we had 7 CFA trucks in there helping the crew to mop up. When I said to the Parks fellow who was in charged there on the Sunday afternoon about putting the bulldozer in he said no we are moving everyone out from the west side. My advice is to go home, pack your family up and move out. We werenít going to move out, we had decided to get in and see what we could do. They havenít locked us up yet so.
Thatís the sad part, if everyone had pulled together the CFA, Ballan and Mt Wallace, yes it was Ballan, Greendale, Morrisons and Elaine and Mt Wallace wanted to get in on the Saturday to have a go and were all turned away. They wouldnít allow them to come in to . It was very disappointing and until a few things are changed we are not going to get anywhere. Yes, thatís about all Stewart. I missed out a bit unfortunately.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you Daryl. You could hear some of the problems on the ground. Daryl has been disobeying orders, but not locked up yet. The Stretton Group will protect you.
At this stage could I take 10 minutes to ask a question or two of our two speakers then we will hear from our other two speakers. If anyone wants to make a statement, just be a little bit restricted and not take too long. No parliamentary speeches here tonight.
First question to our speakers or point of view. Thanks Bill
If you would just like to tell the audience who you are.
Norman Endacott Ė retired forester Ė a lot of the stuff we have been given in the last two books has been outrageous. I would like to ask, has all this been put on paper, with names named and places and times and things for future use.
Daryl Ferry Ė it has on our part anyway.
Norman Endacott Ė have CFA people got it all documented?
Daryl Ferry Ė inaudible
Norman Endacott Ė should it be put in the form of a statutory declaration.
Daryl Ferry Ė it could be, but itís all the time that it takes for us all to document it.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you.
Gavin Jamieson Ė bee keeper Ė Daryl I wonder whether you could tell us how often in the summer you get south easterly winds and which way would that have taken the fire late in the afternoon?
Daryl Ferry Ė nearly every evening the winds swing to the south. Everyone in the bush knows that. From 5.00 to 6.30 p.m. we will always get a wind change. That is what I was concerned about, where the fire was against our property. It got within Ĺ km of our property and the old fellows who worked in the bush and the Forestry blokes all know that the wind will swing, vary a little and can swing around most days after a hot bad day. That answer your question Gavin?
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you
Barry Dexter Ė member of Forest Fire Victoria and I would just like to make some comments to add to the issues concerning the Grampians. In the mid 1960s, the Forest Commission, the previous management to what is now the Grampians National Park built an airstrip near Forest Lodge as a base from which to launch fire bombers for a quick attack on the fires in the Grampians.
The airbase was built to civil aviation standards with two runways, wind sock, fuel storage facilities for mixing Foschek, a fire retardant that is far more effective than water. The mixing facilities have since been upgraded so that the larger faster and more efficient fire bombers now available can quickly be loaded with Foschek.
The air base is about 15 kms from where lightning started the recent fires which devastated most of the Grampians National Park in which 2 people tragically lost their lives and others there homes, livestock and valuable assets. I believe that the Minister should be asked to confirm that because of the lack of maintenance or other due diligence by Parks Victoria, the current manager of the Grampians National Park, the runways at the airbase were not fully operational when the fire started and fire bombers which used the airbase were restricted.
My concern for their safety for carrying only a half load of Foschek. Further more there were no repelling crews available to back up that extremely valuable resource in catching a lightning strike in its early days. I can vouch from personal experience and the records of the Forest Commission that many fires started by lightning in the Grampians were successfully controlled in the minimum period of time with the aid of that fire bombing base. And I might add that Foschek works when itís dry, its far more efficient than water in these matters. Thank you Stewart.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you Barry. We have John Vogels here, Simon Ramsay, President of the VFF. Iím sure they will be taking that up at another venue and thank you very much for your contribution.
XXXXXXXXX Ė in my former life before I became a bee keeper, I used to work for the large multi national company called Monsanto and I worked with Barry Dexter and Athol and others doing that. I would also ask question, why wasnít there enough Foschek used or another similar product on the first night? There doesnít seem to be any answer why the first attack wasnít really approached in the xxxx of what they have spent now.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you for that point of view. A couple more questions to our two speakers.
John Edmonds - on the Saturday night of the Brisbane Ranges fire I went out there, I was aware there was a fire to try to protect by bee crops. I found people sleeping throughout the National Park and nobody from Parks went around to try and move those people on. I think they had completely dropped the ball.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you. There is nothing at this stage. Could I please advise that after our next two speakers we are going to have an open forum and people can make a point of view or raise an issue with our two speakers or our four speakers. Prepare yourselves and give us some comments as you saw the issues.
Our next speaker is Robert Cooke. He is from Anakie, similar to Daryl Ferry. He is a former Group Captain of the CFA and has made some fairly strong statements. He rang me and was a bit concerned that he might have been a bit too forthright. He had a little bit in the Geelong Advertiser this morning which I think might stir up our green friends and he gets quite a line along this and I thinks this is what he might be saying. The tree huggers donít have much place in the fire front. Theyíre the ones calling the shots, theyíre the ones who tell us itís our fire. He got quite a big headline this morning in the Geelong Advertiser. Robert Cooke is forthright and I look forward to hearing his comments. Thank you Robert.
Robert Cooke Ė thank you Stewart, John Vogels, I know and any other parliamentarians, ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Robert Cooke, Iím actually from Meredith, not Anakie, but that is a minor detail Stewart. I have been a farmer for all my life. I have been DGO in the Anakie Group, Captain Meredith Brigade and am currently Meredith Lieutenant, Iím called that, I have a radio in the ute and thatís my official position.
Probably I would like to say firstly, what Stewart said there is true. The Geelong Addy got wind of that fact that I was one of the Speakers. When they rang they asked if was one and I said yes and I gave them a couple of barrels full to the reporter on the phone. And he reported it very much like I said, so I was happy about that.
But to take it back to the government of the day and those prior have a lot to answer for in locking up our National Parks. Whatís gone on is that the government want the Greenís second preference and to get that they have basically given them what they want. And this locking up of the parks, totally closing them I mean.
As Daryl said when we had the Forest Commission we had tracks that were well maintained during the winter. They made sure they accessible, if there were trees in the way they were moved, if there branches you could drive through and you had clear way. If you try to get down them now in the fire truck, the first thing you do is break off the aerial and you have no radio. You are in danger immediately. When they had water points, you could turn around, you knew you could get in and you knew you could get out. But now itís raffertyís rules.
As the first two speakers said, two people died in the Grampianís fires. It was very lucky we didnít have another Linton in the Anakie fire. The Grovedale went into a may day call at Anakie, all radio traffic stopped. I have since spoken with the Anakie Captain. He said the truck disappeared into a wall of flames and didnít know if he would ever see it again. Luckily they kept going and came out the other side alright. But I mean this fire should never have got down there and they should never have been put in that position.
The things that I have made little notes about where the DSE went wrong and things that they got very wrong.
There is a fellow works for the Geelong Waterboard. This fire started very close to the Geelong water catchment and there are three big dams there with, I donít know 20 or 30 acres, Daryl Ė 40 acres each. This man is born and bred in Meredith and works for Barwon Water. He is in one of their houses and the fire was threatening the house and he and one or two others were clearing timber and stuff from away from around the house and DSE man came over from the car to say he couldnít do it because of the spiders and the ants. I verified that with him last night.
And then he was using water, Barwon Water, he is a Barwon Water employee, at the stand pipe he was filling a little unit and wetting down all around his house and the DSE bloke came and said you canít have the water, we want it. So he continued the DSE bloke went and got the police to try and stop him. He is Barwon Water employee, in a Barwon Water house, using Barwon Water and said I will get out of the way every time you want to come in. So then he went and got a unit and put it on the tanker dam and protected his house that way. It was a strike xxxxxxxx
Daryl mentioned the strike team. Came from Region 15, the Ballan Group. They were there mid afternoon on the Sunday. They did very little. I know one of the men on the Morrison tank. He said he didnít set foot on a CFA tanker if he was under DSE control again. There was a fellow there by the name of Reg Martin. They deserted him. He and his son stayed there with the ute, saved his house and work shop. He lost his hay shed and cattle yards. He lost everything else. The DSE blokes said it was too dangerous, go away. They wouldnít let them go in. Crazy stuff. They had couple hundred acres quite clear ground around the buildings and they said it was too dangerous.
Anyway, this strike team. They said go way back to Mt Wallace which is 15kms up the road, yet they were sitting there with all these dams in front of them where the fire could not come through, quite a safe spot, and they stayed at the dams and lost contact with a bloke from DSE who was supposed to be in charge. And the wind had changed and the fire had died. The wind change probably came through around 7.30 p.m. and the fire really went really solid, it went through a heap of country. Then the wind dropped and the fire naturally died a bit with it.
There is track to the very north of the fire, a track going down past the school camp and it goes right through and you can get out to Staughton Vale on the north end. And these fellows had two strike team leaders, a crew leader in every truck, trained CFA people and they had no DSE bloke there so they decided that the fire was perhaps Ĺ km away and burning slowly towards them, that they would use the tractors and break and burn back from it. They started burning back, along came the DSE bloke, hit the roof, didnít have his authority and told them all to go home. And they did. Terrible.
In the middle of this with the fire still going, you know what happened, two or three hours later they tried to burn it themselves, the DSE and of course the dew had come down and it wouldnít burn. Next day it was all spotting over the road. I myself went to the fire at about 1.30 p.m. on the Sunday. Maybe Iíll go back a bit. On the Saturday morning. Go back again.
On the Friday night, it was definitely the lightning strikes which caused the fire as Daryl said. I was actually in Melbourne watching the cricket at Telstra Dome when the lightning was on. I think DSE along with the Anakie Brigade tried to get what fires they could out that night, obviously they didnít succeed.
About 9.30 a.m. I was out, I have two parts to my property and the one further west, about 6 kms west of Meredith has a very high point on it, higher than Mt Anakie itself where I was and the smoke was going up, I had the ute, I had the radio going and that stage they couldnít actually identify where the fire was and that was when I rang Daryl. I said there is a fire very close to somewhere near to where you are, because I knew the landmarks, because I could pick pine trees in the distance because I had a farm up to 1982 which also joined Daryl and the National Park, so knew the area very well. I could pinpoint, I said itís about at Durdidwarrah.
I called the fire brigade ins, Balliang and Mt Wallace which were both from the region 15 and three brigades out of the Anakie Group, Anakie, Maude and Meredith. Meredith tanker rang me to ask how to get there. I gave instructions over the phone and they said they were the first tanker to get there. I identified pretty much knew where it was because the tower wasnít up, the DSE didnít not exactly where the fire was, but we got tankers there and we got some in there fairly quickly.
Now that first fire wasnít far .. someone over road me, but I donít know who sent the Mt Wallace home, they were short of resources. The reasons I called those tankers, there were all country people. You didnít have to give any instructions on how to fight the fire, they went in and did it. You knew they would be alright, you didnít have to worry about them. They werenít people without experience.
Now, about 11 oíclock the second fire went up and there still laid back with a tree which was smouldering from lightning as well. They are reasonably confident that that is the fact and of course that caught the xxxx by surprise. When the second fire went up they nearly had the first one contained but the second one got away. Then on Saturday evening it was still felt that Daryl would have to go in with his dozers but refused that enough people had been there. I had rung the CFA and offered to go and said I could get resources to go in there and they said DSE said it was all under control. Well the rest is history.
It wasnít under control. By 11 oíclock on Sunday it was away and really going. And that was when, at 1 oíclock in the afternoon, 1.30 an ex captain rang me and I have my own tanker and he said what do you think. I said itís getting pretty serious, itís obviously not under control. The CFA and DSE can say what they like.
We both had people we had known all our lives in the Anakie area so we took the decision that we head off in our own truck without any radio to see if we could safe what we could at Anakie. People we knew trying to preserve their Ďasset preservationí. We met a policeman at Durdidwarrah.
He looked at my old truck, and I must admit itís a very old truck. Because I only put the tank on it for my own harvest, if the header ran a bearing so I had a fire truck there. It wasnít designed anymore to be taken to fires. I wonít tell you how old it was, perhaps I will. It was a 1952 International. Heat shielded, petrol motor not ideal, itís got dual fuel. I put that on when it was a good truck so it had an electric fuel pump and a manual one.
The truck is heat shielded and has 3000 litres of water on it. Far more than nearly any of the CFA have got on and I met the police and we said we were going down to save what we can at Anakie. And he said on your way. And away we went. And I was rather surprised at the debrief that the RO at Geelong Bob Barry acknowledge the private tankers.
There were only three of us who were above Anakie and actually stopped the fire coming through on a front into Anakie. One of the reasons why that fire didnít get a hell of a lot bigger is that we have had a very tough season and in the paddocks there was very little to burn. If we had the season theyíve had in the Grampians the fire would have gone down through Lara somewhere. No make no mistake about that.
When it came out there, it wasnít hard to put out and even though it was 42į we probably had 30 spot fires on 3 or 4 hundred acres. We chased it and chased it and chased it. We were nearly beaten. It nearly beat us. It jumped the Geelong Ballan Road, just above Anakie and at that stage, trucks arrived, about 3-4 of us. I couldnít work out where the hell they had been and why they werenít there. It was obvious Anakie had been under threat.
At 1.30 one part of the fire had gone through behind the township. I fellow by the name of Lyall Hodgson who I know, I rang him last night to find out what went on and he said he didnít have a fire truck there at all. He was on his own. And the DSE did not know, they were in charge, they did not know where the fire truck was.
I mean the township of Anakie was under threat and they had all the trucks held up in the bush. It was only that David Gillett, the Anakie Captain, after 3.30 or 4 oíclock, he hit the rough and said we are going, bugger you we are not staying any longer thatís it, we are out of here and if they hadnít arrived it would have still gone a bit further to the east of Anakie. They arrived in time to hold it. We were a bit out of puff.
There were two utes, myself and another truck we had put in two tanks of water, just on spot fires. It was amazing. At one stage we thought we had it all under control and next thing it would light up everywhere and it was very hard. Now on the west flank, Daryl eluded to that. I was there also all night on the Monday night. Talk about bureaucracy.
We were to be there at 7 oíclock to change crews. We were there on time, a bit before. Before we started the paperwork we were debriefed, we were heading up the north end of the fire, right up the very north end, that was fine. At 11 oíclock we left the oval, we sat there for 4 hours.
I paid a guy to drive a truck to take my stock to Ballarat and we sat there for 4 hours. I wasnít really impressed. And when we went up there we did bugger all. We had a Ė our strike team leader was Maurice Groves from the Coastal Group and about 1.30 a.m. he realised that myself and the other Meredith bloke was there who was with me on the first day, he was an ex captain, we both knew the area pretty well, and he said I canít work out what they are trying to achieve. We are doing nothing here. There was big, I mean big trees with pipes in them, smoking, burning, embers coming out the top. We couldnít do anything with those. Only way to stop them is to push them over.
They had a little tiny dozer there, the DSE and no driver. So we sat there, well I donít know what we did in the end of it we all nearly went to sleep, because there was nothing to do. The fire wasnít going anywhere until the next day when the embers were coming out of the top of the trees. They were coming out in the dark, they werenít lighting up, but of course the next day it spotted and they had more trouble there again.
Probably about 8.30 a.m. we fought the fire on the flat on the north side of Anakie til we had it all out there until the township of Anakie was safe. Because the wind change wasnít far away. There is a group of houses and a church where Staughton Vale and the Ballan Roads meet. We sat there for a while just to guard those houses. The wind change still hadnít come. We were waiting for it. We were in a reasonably safe area we reckoned.
And at that stage my phone rang and it was the Anakie Group Office, Kelvin Round. He said Robert, would you be prepared to lead a strike team tonight. Yes I said. Iím already here at the fire. Could I be down at the Anakie Fire Station at 9 oíclock. But then the wind changed and we moved towards Staughton Vale because more people we knew with houses that were going to be under threat.
We went up there and it was fierce. Kevin and I sat on the road and I said what do you think? There was a house up there that belonged to Billy Tucker, people we knew and I said well, it would be better if we had a couple of more trucks, wouldnít it. And I said it would. I said we will go up and have a look and see how much room he has in front of his house. Whether it was safe to be there when the front came through. We went up and had a look and decided it was. We parked there and proceeded to save his house, all his buildings and quite a bit of ground down to the road.
In the middle of it, it got past, the phone rang again. Kelvin Round, he said sorry I canít use you as a strike team leader you donít have the right bit of paper. But he said would you come down, Iíve got a bloke who does have the right bit of paper, could you come down and show him what to do and where to go. Itís true as I stand here. Any way it turned out that where we were at the house we couldnít get out at 9 oíclock so it didnít get down there until 10. 30 and there didnít want me at all. At about 12.30 the other bloke that was with me, he is nearly 70, we decided, we had brought all our own food and all our own drink and done our own thing and one bloke wanted to pass for saving his own house and we went home. I think I will conclude with that Stewart.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you Robert Cooke. You have it very first hand there. Could I introduce Simon Armytage from the Dunkeld area, Dunkeld fire brigade. Simon is a forthright CFA Captain, well informed close to the fire and Iím sure he will give you some interesting views. Thank you Simon.
Simon Armytage Ė thank you Stewart and Members of the Stretton Group and ladies gentlemen. Iím Simon Armytage and Iíve been at Dunkeld 58 years. Iím a fairly average farmer who is still in the process of being educated by my father. He has a way to go. Now, I think everyone here agrees with the last three speakers, everything they said and everything they said is true, I can assure you of that and I can probably make it worse.
The trouble with Victorian fire fighting is that there are three agencies all to do the one job Ė to put the wet stuff on the red stuff. I mean we have Parks Victoria, we have DSE and we have CFA. Once the CFA used to have a Chief Officer and he ran the whole show and did it pretty well and now we have a Chairman, CEO, a Chief Officer and a whole lot of Deputies.
So for a start there is a fair bit of empire building going on there. One has to have a Fairlane and the next one a Statesman, away it goes. Now the volunteer. The CFA up until the top of the volunteers is perfect, well itís as good as itís going to get because they donít cost much.
Now Iím a Group Office of a little group of fire brigades which consists of Dunkeld, Glenthompson, Woodhouse and Strathmore. Only 4 brigades in a Group, Region 5 is a pretty big area. It has 9 Groups weíre the smallest. I reckon we are the best, but you would expect that wouldnít you and the CFA reckon we are a hell of a nuisance, because we have never found our rule book.
I think this is where the volunteer has to now and go and take the CFA back like it was in the 60s and tell, what we call, the blue shirts. There are only 300 or 400 of them in Victoria and tell them what we want and I mean they canít shake us, they canít fine us, they canít do a damn thing, except listen to us, and we have to tell them. I think it will work. Now, thatís easy, not very hard to fix the CFA. It has a hell of a lot of problems from the volunteer are to the top, but I think itís up to the volunteer to make it work and thatís, we have to work on that.
Now to deal with the DSE and Parks Victoria, I donít know. I donít know how to do that, because Parks Victoria will say there in charge. Sorry DSE will say to you, oh thatís Parks Victoria running that show. So you go and find a Parks Victoria gentleman and he will say, no thatís DSE go and ask them. Well there goes a week to start with, just trying to establish that and you never achieve a damn thing. I therefore go back to old rule, just do what you think is right and use a bit of common sense and I think that will still get you off the hook in most 9 out of 10 cases if you could prove that you had used common sense and they have to be overruled DSE and Parks Victoria.
I mean I was threatened with arrest at Mirranatwa. I mean the law couldnít care less. The local policeman was there and said well the handcuffs wonít fit him. So I went off. Xxxxxxx would be done. And the DSE blokes canít handle that for very long, they just get in their Landcruiser and drive the other way. So that is the way to do it. It only works for a little while, it wonít work when it gets to the top.
This fire at the Grampians was run by a joint management team from Horsham. Now Horsham, there is fairly different weather in Horsham than we have on the southern end of the Grampians and how the hell you could run anything from Horsham if you are at the bottom end of the Grampians. And when, after Sunday the wind was predicted to blow from the south end for three days, so the DSE took all their resources to the northern end and left nothing at Mirranatwa, at the bottom end, the southern end because, there are more tourists at Halls Gap than there is in Mirranatwa. So we then, we became a CFA issue from the bottom end.
I sent some blokes up on Monday, I think Monday, yes Monday from Dunkeld and I said just do what you think you have to do, you have to talk to the locals and you can always work it out with the locals. It doesnít matter where the fire is, you must talk to the locals because thatís the way you work it out. So the two blokes that went up there from Dunkeld, pretty knowledgeable, been around for awhile. Nothing there at all, except the communications caravan. So they rang up and said they wanted two graders, we need two graders. So that was alright. I got up there on Monday night and they said we have two graders coming. I said that will be handy, thatís good idea. We will start with that. Well eight port-a-loos turned up and they sat there for the duration of the fire. Theyíre might be still there. If you ask for 2 graders and you get 8 port-a-loos.
Anyway the graders came, we did a good job with graders, we put a break against the National Park for 21 kms and the job was done. Eventually. But I mean, I donít know how we beat them. I really donít. Itís up to us all to try and do it. Itís a bit of a worry, because you canít go on and behave like I do. It just doesnít, in the end it doesnít work.
Now Jeremy basically mentioned the December fire. It took two days to clean the whole thing right up. I reckon the reason for that is they didnít want to fight fires over Christmas. It is the only reason I can come up with. It was also the only fire in the State at that time, so they threw a bit more at it, but I canít prove it, but I honestly think that had a bit of bearing on the effort that was put in. Anyway, probably I shouldnít have said that, but anyway. Itís my feelings.
That fire went out in 1 Ĺ days and it took 9 days to bring the other one under control. There are a few things they still do wrong. They send an aeroplane. When there is a report of a fire, they get in an aeroplane, when they can find it and fuel it and have a look. Now if it was me, I would ring up and get a bloke in a water bomber and say, wherever that smoke is, just drop some water on it and keep doing it until it stops. Now, thatís going to save 2 hours for a start.
The water bomber pilot has more chance of the smoke than all the DSE fellows would put together. These are questions that we as a little group will be asking, we havenít had our regional review yet. Itís next week I think and these are the questions we are going to ask.
We have got to have one agency, by one person. Like the army has a general or whatever and doesnít have any threats. We have threats every summer and so many people in charge. Imagine if you had a bloke half as good as Bill Middleton with his experience. You would send him up there and say, now get that out.
One man could make the decisions, someone like that and it would be right. On the spot and it would be right. Bill would have had it out, probably by Friday lunchtime. Until we can do that I believe we have got no hope. I donít how we display, well I do know how to do cold burns.
I mean in the old days, the old blokes would have been running the sheep in the Grampians National Park, they would be fools if they werenít and when they were riding those sheep on their horse , I bet you they dropped a match, every 200 yards and did it strategically and kept moving. I donít think I had better go and do it, but someone has got to start doing that again. I couldnít do it because there wouldnít be a horse that could carry me. A smaller person will have to go riding through the Grampians and start dropping matches.
ÖÖÖÖ.. We can persuade in other ways. If we could get them to do it, itís the best training ground for CFA volunteers, for DSE fire fighters. What better training that cold burning a National Park. Could not get better and until be can make that work, I canít see we have any hope. You see, if we go along with what weíve got now the insurance companies will say, you live too close to the National Park, sorry we canít insure you and you know if we get to that sort of thing I donít know where we are going to go.
I wonder if we could enlist the services of the insurance industry to help us present our case to them all, but it just alarms me that its where we could finish up. Thatís the problem I can see, thatís persuading these greenies, or there is a lot of names for them, but we will stick with that, but anyway I just like to thank you for putting up with me and Iím sorry I canít tell you much more.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you very much Simon Armytage. Could I suggest before the next 15 minutes, everyone stands up and talks to their friend for 30 seconds. Now before we start our Open Forum section with questions, answers, points of view and great support for DSE and Parks, Gary Morgan our host would like to make a couple of comments on his survey on bushfires. He knows everything about everything. He is a very good friend of mine and again I would like to thank Gary and Genevieve for having us at this wonderful venue. He has invited us back to have another drink down below when we have finished here. He has another meeting to go and he just wants to tell us how we rate in the bushfire. Thank you Gary.
Gary Morgan Ė thanks Stewart. This is, we get asked to do many surveys for nothing and this is one we do for nothing. This is our contribution.
You have heard about the micro-level, what happens on the scene. What we do is measure at the macro level. I have given you the poll results of a poll we did. We actually surveyed last night and we finish the survey tonight so we donít want this data I have given you tonight to be published. Tomorrow I will email you all, all those that gave their email address a copy of the results.
The important issue is facing us and this is think is what itís really all about is that the attitude towards bush fires sits in a mix of the Australian Wheat Board, Iraq, land slide in the Philippines, we have bird flu, IVF, Qantas not putting competition on the flight to LA, we have problems with the car industry, we are a small part of public opinion agenda. And we are not doing a good job getting the point across.
Tomorrow I will analyse the results by what people in Victoria think, but Australia, I gave you the top line results tonight, the people who say the government is doing enough is 52% and in September 49%. There is no basic change in public opinion across Australia. So we can all get here tonight, I canít believe we have so many people here compared with last year. Last year we had very few. Now we have 3 times the amount and next we will have to have it in the Town Hall.
But the point is we havenít got across to the man in the street that there is concern with bushfires. Thatís number 1. Secondly, what has happened since September? For what has happened is that water conservation, should the government do more with water conservation 80% of Australians said they should in September and today itís down to 66%.
And there was Malcolm Turnbull on the radio this morning, some of you would have heard it, talking about water and water in the cities and water conservation. Now in the bush fire space, we have to communicate what these gentlemen have done. So what weíre going to do is firstly we will put some of the things said today, we will get them typed up and get them up on the Web. Tomorrow Iím going to give a press release on the poll, showing how, what people think of bush fires.
We are also, Michelle xxxxx, is not here today, she is leading the charge in our organisation to start doing surveys of opinion leaders. We have already done one survey of opinion leaders and weíve got your email addresses and we are going to put your opinions in amongst those of other people. Such as Members of the Australian American Association, such as Members of the IPA, such as people who are Members of the Business Council. We want to show what the Stretton Group thinks about issues, which concern you, compared to what the Business Council thinks about issues. And the good news is, if I just play my cards correctly, I think Iím going to get all heads of the ACTU to get their opinions.
Stewart McArthur Ė is there anyone let in the ACTU?
Gary Morgan Ė there is quite a few. Bill Shorten is going to Canberra though. What we want to do is we want to show what the Stretton Group, what they think. We already have the Marcus Oldham people, say what they think. We want to get what business leaders think, we want to get what unions think, we want to get what politicians think and we want to look at the issues. And I know we are down.
I know that not everyone is thinking of bush fires and Iím horrified to think that with these unfortunately bush fires and with all the publicity, there has been no change in the opinion polls around Australia. What I have to look at tomorrow is if there is any change in Victoria. So the point I want to get across is that we are not winning the war. And that is the message. I donít want to be here with doom and gloom, but next year we come here, we are going to get many more stories out. Iím going to help you do that and we weíre going to get more things said and we need a more vocal voice to the man in the street. I did tackle Andrew Jaspin, the editor of the Age, he brushed me off. Iíll get him. Iíll get him.
Unkown Ė I think he is a nice man.
Gary Morgan Ė Good. Okay. The fact is. Iím glad, maybe he took notice. He ignored me, but his readership went up this month so maybe he liked the story. The point is weíve not only got to have the Age here. Weíve got to get the issue up. What you have done tonight is fantastic, but not enough people have heard, have they. What we have to do is communicate the story so you have a big job in front of you. Alright Hugh Morgan Iíll tell him youíll read the Age. He told me he doesnít read it, but Iíll get him. If you write it up, Iíll guarantee that he will start reading the Age. We need to get our communication going. Thatís the point. Stewart, thank you very much.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you very much Gary. Can I say the Stretton Group share Gary Morganís concern. What we are really trying to do is get the argument up front, get some first hand experience, get the facts. As Norman Endacott said, lets get the facts, lets get them documented, lets get the argument on the street, Collins Street and the CBD so that they understand it. Alright now we are open for questions, points of view to our 4 speakers who will be delighted to answer your questions. If you have a point of view you want to express please tell us. Thank you.
Brian Fraser Ė thanks Stewart. From Tallangatta and I was a Group Officer for 24 years. I did make a few notes as we went along because I donít want to take up too much time and Iíll go very quickly through them. The CFA Act says that every individual in the State, has an obligation to do something about fires. And it also says that if you have percunary interest you are entitled to do something about putting out a fire as well.
I think that is a point that needs to be looked at because itís a technicality but if you donít youíre breaking the law. The minimal skills course that is now going through the CFA went from a two day course, now itís Ĺ hour. Not at any stage did you get any idea of how to deal with a fire on the fire ground. I believe there is a hidden agenda. It gets worse. It gets worse from 2003.
I was at a meeting here last year and there were a handful of people. Now there are three times as many and I can suggest to you that next time the Grampians will be involved. Iím sorry the Otways. Two words that have crept into this fire fighting system recently, in recent years Ė wild fire and ember attack.
Wild fire is an American term and ember attack has come out of DSE. In emergency management, the success and planning is usually to identify the hazards and I see now that the hazard that we have got is embers and surely to remove that hazard you do something about the embers, and we heard what happens when old timers go into the bush and light it. Many years ago the best place to do anything with a fire in grasslands was to turn into the bush and it would go out as weíve heard tonight.
Iíd just like to suggest to that in the London Times, last October there was a short article and this is quite interesting about a person by the name of Chris Ayers who lives in Los Angeles. He got a letter from the Municipality saying that if he didnít remove vegetation and bush on his hillside on his property he would be subjected to a court experience in a large room and cheque book. So over there now it is law that you have to remove all your hazards.
We had the same stories in 2003 and to my mind it is very sad that they have to be repeated, but they are, they are getting worse and the mention of the four loos that came instead of some sort of truck. We had problems with loos in 2003, but what did we get. We got a semi-trailer with 24 that they put at the MCG. Thatís the sort of thing that happens.
Look, we could go on all night, I just hope that everyone can do something to attract a bit more attention than weíve already got and just to give another idea on how crazy it is, in 2003 we were told that if we didnít evacuate that we would have to tell the police the dentist name and his phone number so that they could contact him. So I agree with everything and lets get together and do something about it and lets put the CFA back to where it used to work successfully.
Stewart McArthur Ė Thanks. Next question or point of view.
Bill Crawford Ė Mirranatwa. These fires could really be a comedy of errors if they werenít so serious. I agree with all the speakers here. We were involved with the Victoria Valley and the Grampians bush fire and all the problems we had with machinery, logistics the whole thing was actually spot on.
The Monday morning at the Mirranatwa at the hall we were told by DSE. The control centre at the Mirranatwa Hall, Bob Robinson he was in charge of the fire overnight on Sunday said DSE had gone and they wonít be back until Thursday, itís our fire. We had a bulldozer coming so we grabbed that. I donít think Simon was involved at that stage.
We had put in about two hours later the DSE must have heard around the traps whizzed up to direct where it was going. We had more dozer sitting at that stage we couldnít access it as the drivers were not under instruction to work for use and the whole thing went on as everyone has pointed out before. The structure and how to get the management, and I agree with Simon.
We really need to have someone who is in charge working through two or three different agencies is an impossibility. When a fire gets to that stage, if itís a fast running fire it starts burning, two hours later itís over, itís a different matter altogether. When you have chance to do some planning, you have to have someone there who can make big decisions, get the equipment working, get the people working in the right area and attack the fire at its source.
Itís the motto of the xxxxx St, which is next door to Simonís group that instant suppression is the easiest way to tackle a fire. The quicker you can get at it the quicker you can put it out, the least damage it does. And whilst the National Park has allowed to build up huge amounts of fuel, as they are my experiences only go back 50 years whereas people here go back further. And a lot of areas of the park have not been burnt in living memory.
Fuel is allowed to build up, it was quoted in the paper the other day that about 30 tons per hectare, and no one can cope with that amount of fuel load. It is absolutely impossible to do it. Simon, the elements of the conservation group do not like cool burns but you can avoid cool burns for so long. To get conditions like we had in the Grampians fire, 40į , wind of whatever, humidity very low, the whole thing was going to burn. 47% of the Park went in a matter of hours. All the conservation strategies in that area were all completely wasted. All the animals, all the bird life and the plants that are meant to be protected are now cooked. It is going to take a decade to get back to where it was. So I agree with everything that you said. Thanks very much for doing it.
Stewart McArthur Ė David Packham
David Packham Ė I am a scientist and I was in CSIRO and Iím no gay. But I do want to deal with some facts. I have three facts, three quick ones which I want to deal with.
Our Australian approach to the fire is really changed over the past 50 years, we have gone from leaders in the world to a third world nation in our attack on fires. And to give you an example, almost 10 years ago 14 fire fighters were killed at a fire at Storm King in Colorado. As soon as that happened, the Americans investigated the fire. There were three federal agencies that investigated that fire. US Forest Service, Occupational Health and Service and the Bureau of Land Management. They were independent, there were roughly 10 per team and they investigated for 6 years. They found out the facts.
What we do is we hide the facts. We had the Stretton Inquiry which was a horrible whitewash and all the facts are being suppressed. One of those federal agencies, the Occupational Health and Safety issued an indictment on the fire service. Could you imagine that happening here? And US Forest Service said yes we stuffed it up, we will find out how we can get it right.
Now we have to get this forensic approach if we are going to solve this problem before the State loses its forests, environment, people and water supplies. The Country Fire Authority is not a country fire authority. 80% of its expenditure is on urban, big city fire brigades. I think itís budget is probably bigger than Metropolitan Fire Brigade.
The volunteers are used in a massive public relations exercise to provide the mateship, the Australian stuff behind which this huge empire which is not a government empire. It is financed from insurance payments and the State Government really care about its expenditure, because it doesnít cost the State Government anything at all, well very little. They occasionally make extra contributions.
There is a huge con act being generated here on the Victorian people. The last thing, very quickly. These fires in the Grampians were very difficult but they were a 20% threat. The fire indices got up to about 40 -50% . In 1939 the fire danger index reached the 100. In Ash Wednesday, probably 180, Canberra got 220. If people believe that we can beat these fires, we might have 20% threat, but just consider what happens at the 100% threat. That is the threat of what we are facing at the moment.
Stewart McArthur Ė Thank you David. Who else wants to raise a question or point of view? Thank you.
Chris Murphy Ė I live in middle of the Wombat Forest, and I mean in the middle I have 40 acres totally surrounded by forest on all sides. I have a slight interest in fire management and I keep my place somewhat safe in a fire situation.
So I actually took up the opportunity to take a look at the fire ground at Anakie in conjunction with the DSE Regional Operations Fire Manager. He took me through and he showed me what happened, where it happened and why it happened. It was a very enlightening exercise. He took us to sites, he said look over there, one side of the road, the other side of the road, see this side, scorched, no leaves no nothing. This side, leaves, it will come back look. Itís been burnt but it will come back.
The difference between this side of the road and that side of the road, that was burnt two years ago, thatís never burned. He took us around another corner, and said, look over here. Harsh fire, moon scape Ė leaves, green all within 200 metres. What is the difference, that was our land, we burnt , that is Barwon Water land, they hadnít. See that fence there, because Barwon Water was worried about all their water running out of it. Still donít understand why you have to fence water. But once you got to the fence line, there was less damage and within 100 metres was out.
Now I take courage from that because it was the DSE Regional Manager telling me about this. They are not the enemy. They can see the solutions. What he said to me was, do you know what I am going to do now? Iím going back to Ledercxxxx State Forest and Iím going to burn the 2500 hectare fire right in the middle of it. Iím going to light it and on this trip we had the tree huggy, the tree huggiest people you could ever find. People who were saying things like, but it might kill one wombat, we canít do that.
But they are starting to recognise that we might kill one wombat, but I would much prefer that one wombat to be burnt in a low intensity fire than a 1000 wombats in a high intensity fire. And they are starting to recognise that this is working and DSE is actually working to bring them along.
I think we have to be very careful that we donít create the, our answer, their answer, there is no middle ground, because there is middle ground in this. Nature is a balance and we have to have a balanced answer to this. And I think we can get one as long as we donít get too far out with one side saying, throwing in brick bats without coming up with a solution.
I think there are solutions, there are intelligent and competent people in DSE and yes there are stuff ups on fire operations. One of the things he pointed out to me, he said look a lot of the people operating this fire, is the first time they have had to fight a real fire. You know, a lot of them hadnít been there on Ash Wednesday. The first big fire they have had to actually operate. To test a lot of their systems. Some of them worked, some of them obviously didnít. We have to find out why they didnít and learn from it. I donít think we have to sit hear and say its all doom and gloom. I think there is hope there but we have to make sure we push that hope to reality and not just to xxx.
Stewart McArthur Ė weíll give
John Mulligan Ė I come from far east Gippsland. I could say quite a lot, but I will cut it very short. The problems that you have experienced over there were all experienced in the Omeo areas with the big fires in 03. The same sort of stuff ups, CFA pulling out, DSE pulling CFA out.
The local people were very unhappy with the whole sordid thing that went on there too. Now we are sitting on the next big time bomb. In 1982 -83, I think it was 83 we had the big fire in far-east Gippsland. Itís a bit too small for you to see on a map like that. There is the NSW border, there is Cann River so all that country was burnt in the one fire. Now itís already to go again.
Itís 20 odd years of saplings, thick as you canít ride a horse through there anymore. Wire grass this high amongst it. A similar patch up near Eden a few years ago, about 20 years ago was in a similar state and it blew up in November with 40,000 odd hectares burnt in 4 hours. It didnít burn, it exploded and thatís what we are facing. We formed a group called Wildfire Task Force. We have been pushing and bellyaching to DSE for the last 3-4 years to get something done. Hasnít happened.
I donít have the confidence of our previous speaker about that they are learning. I donít think they are. In 83 we had, there was. Before the 83 fire there was a fire about 2 years previously up between the Cann River and the Genoa River and we had cattle up there. We took them out just before, about November and Clive Hodges another fellow I know up there was in trouble with somewhere to put his stock, so he put his stock on this burn that we had had our cattle on.
Now when that 83 fire went through, it burnt to edge of that burn. If it had been and burnt through the burn, right through it again, but his cattle were in on it and they survived. He didnít lose a beast. But if they had been in the other bush, it was black and bare and lost the lot. It just goes to prove, that fuel reduction burning is worth while. But if you can get them to do it, you are better than we are.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you
Doug Treasure Ė Mountain Cattlemenís Association Ė I think the Stretton Group is doing a great job but we are preaching to the converted a bit and I think what we need is a public awareness campaign. Iím not really sure how you do it. We recently drove some cattle through the national park and got some pretty good coverage. Not sure what good it is going to do us, but we got good coverage and I think this group has a similar problem.
Itís a political problem. Itís a education of the voter as I think Robert Cooke said, we are city centric and itís all about educating the people so that up in Spring Street, Stewartís mates, theyíre probably not his mates, make some decent decisions. So typical of the sort of stuff that we get and Iím going to run the Age down now, I rang someone the other day within our organisation and said what are we going to do next, things have gone a bit quiet. The wife answered the phone as the husband was driving the car and she said you are going to have to ride naked through the city and I said I think you had better do that Glenda and she said no, you and Charlie.
I hung up the phone after a while and this lady from the Age rang up and said what was going on, a bit of a gossip columnist. I said those Grampian fires and I gave her quite a spiel about the bee keepers and she said thatís not interesting and she then said what else are you going to do and I was quite sick of her by then and I said I though we might ride naked through the town and I donít know if you saw in the diary in the back of the Age last Tuesday, that the mountain cattlemen are going to ride naked.
Thatís about the level that city people are interested in and I donít know how you tackle it. No previews tonight. Well anyway I am very concerned about it and if I can supply a horse to anyone, Simon I mightnít have one to carry you but I can do something about it. I think it is a public awareness problem.
Stewart McArthur Ė can I just comment on behalf of the Stretton Group. We are very aware of this problem. Basically we are a non profit, apolitical group which has a view unless we agitate and advocate a public position in the urban area. Now admittedly we have a lot of people who understand the arguments here tonight, but we have tried very hard to get an urban debate on bush fire, on water catchment, on park management. Thatís a very difficult debate as is the forest debate and some of these other environmental arguments.
So we do not underrate the magnitude of the difficulty but lets remember that itís the urban green environmentalists who do vote at elections who do have a view on bush fires and locking up the forests, are the people who do change politicians minds. So any help you can give us we would appreciate it, we do understand it.
As Gary Morgan said earlier on, we do have to influence the Collins Street urban voter about the issues. As David Packham said, there was a change in USA and personally Iím encouraged by the fact that President Bush and President Clinton did change their whole operation of fire control and park management after the Yellowstone fires. Now we hope that itís not burning the Otways out that really brings people to their senses, but lets be clear that there is a little bit of movement in public opinion because there are people like you who are prepared to come to an argument like this and to put a point of view on the public record as our speakers have done tonight.
Can I just say that I did overlook in the opening remarks that I did invite, Phil Ingermells who is the chairman of the National Parks Association to put a point of view to this group. I gave him 24 hours notice, I then spoke to him and an hour later he declined to come and join us. Now he knew exactly what the arguments were. I explained it to him and so you have a situation where the otherside of the debate are not prepared to come and put a point of view to you and the four speakers who had first hand experience. I just put that on the record, they had the option, they had a possibility of coming to argue their case that we should lock up more park and burn more parks down.
Stuart Cuming Ė thank you Stewart. Stuart Cuming Ė Glenthompson area. In the short time we have been on the land we have experienced 3 major fires in the last 70 years. I would just like to tell Gary Morgan about quizzing the man in the street about fire. If you think about it, he is surrounded by asphalt and cement. Why would he be interested in fire?
We donít wish for fire to happen to anyone anywhere but if you could picture the Macedon Ranges on fire, with a really bad north wind, and the smoke coming in really badly in Melbourne that they couldnít see where they were going. And it got around that there was no water to put the fire out. Iím willing to bet Gary that the next survey out of Melbourne from the man in the street would be a lot different.
One final point, just to prove that we havenít gone very far in the last 170 years, being a bit of student of the early explorers, Major Mitchell came through Australia Felix in 1836 and the interesting thing was that he was surrounded by fire most of the time. The Kooris I suggest may have been trying to burn him out, but also they knew how to manage their environment, and if they didnít but burn some areas they wouldnít have green coming on and possibility they would have major fires and it would burn the whole lot out, so they burnt some parts as they moved on.
This was and they are regarded as some of the great conservationists of this world. Stoneage men, but they knew how to live in Australia. A tough environment and they were around for 10,000 years. Thatís all I wanted to say Mr Chairman.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you.
Xxxxxxx Ė I would like to make a couple of points. We think and everyoneís got this thought that you have got autumn cool burns. Out in the You Yangs, along the Sandy Creek Road if you go and have a look, you will see where they conducted a Spring cool burn this year. I think that you find that the result was far better than if they had done it in the Autumn. Because it has been a truly cool burn. Itís only the very low trees that have had singeing of the leaves.
It has been good clean up and I think itís something that people should go and have a look at. We should promote more Spring burns. The other thing is that with the Grampians going up in flames, a 1/3 of my business went out the window because 1/3 of my business is Manooka Honey, tee tree honey out of the Grampians and the best of itís all gone now.
People from Melbourne are ringing up or whatever and they can not understand why they canít buy it or it is going to run out. They donít understand. We have a big big problem. You know itís going to be years before we get regrowth and other areas where we can work. We are not going to meet the demand. The demand has been growing enormously. People are eating it for medicinal reasons not only because they like it. They just donít understand. The link between the forest, the production and what is on their plate.
Stewart McArthur Ė may be time for one more.
Sally Carmichael Ė western Victoria. I was just over the border in South Australia when Rod my husband went to help out at Victoria Valley, one of the Grampians fires. Just over the border, no fire existed, not a fire. And the only fire they mentioned made on SA television was that there is a lot of smoke over Adelaide, donít worry itís only from the Grampians fire. And they told them how to treat their bronchial conditions.
Now I know, and I have spoken to a few people and nobody has mentioned it to me that the ABC unit did an absolutely fantastic job interviewing people and highlighting what normal people on the ground went through with these fires and I think if the, we were talking before about letting the urban sector know, if they heard about what these people were talking about first hand on the radio. They would understand exactly what we go through. They would appreciate the drama, the stress, the turmoil everything, instead of just saying, oh well, itís only a fire in the Grampians and this is how you treat your bronchial condition. And I think the ABC needs to be congratulated.
David Endacott Ė Daylesford Ė thanks Stewart. The fragmentation of what used to be one of the finest forest fighting services in the world, the old Forest Commission and to some degree the Conservation, Forest and Lands days, is a little bit more complicated that Parks and DSE. There were professional and experienced elements that went into Victorian Pine Corps, now Hancocks.
There were resources and experienced staff. There were also still professionals with significant fire experience that are in Land Victoria. Another little dark corner of the mega department. And these people get called in when it reaches crisis point, but I think the biggest challenge for the politicians and political parties and I think the first one to really show a willingness to put back together a really competent arm and broad reaching fire service will be probably get my vote.
And that I think from both sides of the House need to take some responsibility for the death of a 1000 cuts that has been going for more than 15 years. I think that is the biggest issue we fight with dealing with fuel reduction and fire fighting in Victoria. And incidentally, by the by, the last serious saw milling licence in the Wombat Forest signed off on their exit package last week. Is a national park a glint in the governmentís eye for the Wombat Forest?
There hasnít been a significant fire across the whole Wombat for way more than 100 years. Ash Wednesday took a sweep down one edge. There has been a couple of others, but probably almost in white history there been a significant fire across broad acres in the Wombat Forest.
It will be interesting to see what a national park experiment does to the Wombat and I do not agree with 2003, is only two years ago, that a staff from the Daylesford Ballarat region donít have any fire fighting experience. Most of the staff in Ballarat in DSE were still on board 2 years ago when a large contingent went unto the Alpine fires in 2003 and many CFA units in Region 15 also were in the High Country, so I can not accept that we aint been to a fire. There is a real problem in the Department. Itís putting together all the bits that have been scattered to the four blessed winds. Thank you.
Stewart McArthur Ė that might be a good note to conclude our proceedings. Could I just invite Simon Paton to move a vote of thanks and give a special red package, a special red package to our four speakers. Thank you Simon.
Simon Paton Ė on behalf of the Stretton Group I would like to thank Jeremy, Daryl, Robert and Simon for making the effort to come and talk to us and I can tell that having been through what they have been through to come and talk to maybe like minded people in a city, one hell out of the way after a traumatic experience that they have all suffered, is a fair effort and we give them A for effort and thank you very much for coming down and sharing it with us. We will not be stopping punching along.
It would be a real tragedy if we have to burn Ĺ of Melbourne to change the vote. That is a very real threat. I mean that water shed out on the Dandenong side, itís like Stewart McArthurís forest and the ones up in Gippsland, it has that nuclear bomb look about it. It will take an idiot to drop a match and all of a sudden it will be too late to do something. Lets hope we donít get to that stage and we can change some public opinion before that happens. And once again men, thanks for coming up and this is to keep you sweet on the way home. You are allowed to neck it.
Stewart McArthur Ė thank you very much Simon Paton. That brings to conclusion our proceedings and Gary Morgan and the Stretton Group would like to join down at the front and have a drink and have a talk amongst yourselves. Could I just say that I appreciate very much all of you coming to join us tonight. It is a bit difficult.
We are just a voluntary group. We are committed to looking after your interests. We are committed to changing public opinion and I know you all made a big effort to come to the city here in Collins Street to be part of an interesting debate. Could I add my thanks to the speakers. We have had a lot of dialogue, they have done a fantastic job tonight to put their point of view. Thanks to those members of the media who are here to hopefully record some of the interesting points of view that have emerged from both our discussion and the speakers. We hope to do another couple more of these in the future.
We are interest in just promoting points of view factually so that our city cousins can understand the difficulties we have out there in the parks, in rural Australia, in the forests and in the environmental debate generally. So I declare our forum formally closed, thank you for being with us, and look forward to seeing you next time. Thanks for helping us out with a little bit of payment. As I say we havenít got any money and we hope to have another go in the very near future. Thank you ladies and gentlemen.