In the wake of the 2020 fires which ravaged our beautiful bushlands and devastated communities, I was transfixed by the awful scenes and was almost overcome with a sense of helplessness. I desperately wanted to do something to help and knew that I would run out of money donating to causes as often as I wanted to and needed to find an alternative way to connect.
Tasked into Disaster Relief Australia as a spontaneous Volunteer by the state volunteer peak body (Volunteering SA & NT), I found a purpose I did not even know I was looking for. As a business owner, I didn’t think I would be much help on the fire grounds but quickly learnt how wrong I was. Surrounded by an incredible team of capable and skilled Veterans and First Responders, they instilled a sense of confidence in me and put me to work helping them with some honest hard work. It was dirty, it was intensive, it was hard yakka… but it was rewarding and I loved it. I was signed up to be a fully-fledged Disaster Relief Australia Member by the end of my first day.
Two years on, and I am not just a part of this wonderful organisation, it is a part of me now. As Disaster Relief Australia established a Disaster Recovery Team in South Australia, they have given me opportunities to learn new skills – I can use a chainsaw, I can drive a 4×4 through a water crossing, and I am a master wood stacker and fence roller. I don’t even know what I am going to learn next, but I know it will be exciting!
The reward I have derived from being a part of this organisation almost makes me feel guilty at times – how can helping others feel this good? My most rewarding moment was when we had the simple task of cutting up fallen trees and stacking them out of the way. I didn’t realise it at the time, but we were actually clearing the property owner’s fence line and after it was cleared she could get new fences put up meaning she could return her horses to her property. When she came out to see our progress and realised she would be able to see her beautiful horses from her front door again, she was so thrilled she cried and hugged us all. We didn’t even have to apologise for the soot stains she then had down her front! We felt like our task was a small one, but the impact it made on the property owner’s life was immense, and that moment of gratitude will be inked in my brain forever.
The 2020 fires might be what motivated me to get out and become a Disaster Relief Australia volunteer, but the people from both within the organisation and those who we help are what keep me inspired to stay. I have learned a lot from the veteran and first responders in the organisation and have developed a deepened respect and appreciation for what they do for us – so this organisation has become a source of knowledge with much broader depth than I ever anticipated.
My mission is no longer to help just those who have been affected by fires in our own back yard here in Adelaide, but those affected by disasters everywhere – be it a flood in Queensland or a drought in Western Australia. My answer to where do I see myself in DRA is the same if you ask it of me for 12 months, 3 years or a decade from now – this is an organisation I want to be connected with for as long as I am able.