For the firefighters of Australia’s first all-female indigenous fire crew, the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust Country Fire Authority (CFA), keeping their land safe from the deadly bushfires that have shocked the country is just one part of their mission.
As their founder and leader Charmaine Sellings explained in video for ABC Gippsland, “We know how important it is to our community. We think of the safety [of] our elders and we think about the younger generations.”
After the remote aboriginal community suffered from repeated fires and slow response times from existing fire brigades based miles away, Sellings told ABC News, “I stood up and said we’re going to get a crew together.”
For this community surrounded by protected forests, Lake Tyers, and the southern Victorian coastline, getting help fighting fires from the outside often meant waiting at least 45 minutes for crews from the next town to arrive. When Ms. Sellings and other women in the community came together to defend their sacred land, that changed. “Once we all got the training, the fires literally stopped,” she told ABC.
Since starting the brigade over 18 years ago, the female fire brigade (occasionally joined by men from the community) has become a point of pride and defender of tradition. “There are communities, there is cultural history, there is background to the lands where they’re going to fight fires, like in the bush,” Sellings said.
A group of Indigenous women are fighting fires with their own brigade – and are working 24/7 to protect their community and sacred land 🚒👏
When outside fire crews used to come on their land, they might trample on sites with important history out of ignorance. “In one spot there’s 179 artifacts in the ground,” Sellings explained. “We had one of the tankers coming down the hill, I knew where it was going to go straight for and I stood in front it.” She was able to get the drivers to go around the spot.
Like most fire brigades in Southern Australia, the Lake Tyers CFA has been working around the clock to put out fires and monitor the forest. “Things are pretty desperate,” Sellings told Australian Women’s Weekly. “[W]e are in extreme conditions, our dams are empty and it’s not a good situation.” The state of Victoria—and particularly Gippsland, which stretches from Melbourne to the New South Wales border and includes Lake Tyers—has been badly hit by the fires.
The creation of the Indigenous fire brigade had made the Lake Tyers Trust a safer place to live.
For now, however, the indigenous women of the Country Fire Authority are holding the line and inspiring their children and grandchildren to step up and save their land and cultural heritage.
Beyond the benefit to the community, the team’s activities have been tremendously empowering for its members. Charlene’s co-captain, Rhonda Thorpe, told Australian Women’s Weekly, “It’s given us enjoyment, friendship, a great sense of camaraderie among the women and independence.”
Taking responsibility for their community’s own fire safety has also changed the relationship between the aboriginal community and wider Australian society. The Lake Tyers CFA often comes across tourists camping near the lake who aren’t taking responsibility for their footprint. “I can’t count the number of times we’ve come across campfires still going when people have gone into town to get supplies or gone up the lake fishing,” Sellings said. “It makes me very angry.”
“Because of Her, We Can.”We can be strong, we can progress, we can protect.This week we celebrate NAIDOC Week, and the contribution Indigenous Women make to the Victorian community.We visited Lake Tyers Trust Fire Brigade, CFA’s only indigenous brigade founded and lead by women.The brigade protects an area of 4,000 acres of beautiful Australian bush and over 40 homes.These inspiring women led to positive change when it comes to fire safety in their community and continue to do so todayABC Gippslandhttp://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-07-08/victorias-only-all-aboriginal-fire-brigade-at-lake-tyers-trust/9934884
تم النشر بواسطة CFA (Country Fire Authority) في الاثنين، ٩ يوليو ٢٠١٨
However, the work that her fire crew is doing has earned them respect from fellow firefighters in the surrounding areas, who tend to overwhelmingly be male and white. “We all need to work together to deal with the threat of fire,” Sellings argues.
“Traditional ‘blackfella’ ways are very effective,” Sellings adds. “We need to share all our knowledge of managing the bush—white man’s ways and black man’s ways. We have a lot to learn from one another.”
For Charmaine Sellings, the project of teaching herself and fellow women to fight fires echoes the way she has lived her life. As she said in the video for the CFA, “To me, it’s celebrating all women and things we achieve. From kids, from giving birth, to cooking, to doing what we’re doing today, fighting fires.”