All-Indigenous brigade leads fight against Victoria bushfire

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As Victoria’s immediate bushfire threat subsides, crews continue monitoring bushland in the state’s many fire hot-spots.

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One leading the way is an all-indigenous brigade in the state’s far-east, which the CFA describes as a fire-fighting and cross-cultural trail-blazer.

Smouldering bushland in Victoria’s far-east is quickly extinguished.

Rhonda Thorpe, a veteran of the Lake Tyers brigade gets the generator started, and rookie volunteer “Tiny” Edwards does the rest.

Team-work is the cornerstone of the 23-year old unit, which until “Tiny” joined was all-women.

Affectionately known as the “Banana-women” the Lake Tyers Brigade is housed in a humble shed in the centre of the 400-strong community.

There’s one truck, 4-members and a shared will to protect the infrastructure of the settlement surrounded by lakes and oceans.

Founding member Charmaine Sellers says there’s a definiate pride in protecting the community, accompanied by advances in personal development.

“I feel like a leader I feel like I can teach the younger generation how to protect their sites and what to look for.

“It’ll keep them out of trouble. It’ll teach them to respect their elders, it’ll teach them to look after the cultural sites, it’ll teach them the history,” she says.

Julian “Tiny” Edwards is still learning the ropes but shares Charmaine’s sentiment, “Feels more deadly when you got your uniform ‘cos you’re helping everyone and you mixing with other people you don’t normally mix with,” he told SBS.

Recently, the unit expanded it’s role beyond the protection of assets and buildings after more than 170 Aboriginal artifacts have been retrieved from a site adjacent to the mission.

Ms Sellings says the discovery has slightly changed the focus of the unit from asset protection to cultural awareness.

“It means a lot to the elders that we look after the areas because right around the lake we have a lot of cultural sites that hasn’t been recorded yet.”

The CFA says the Lake Tyers Brigade is considered a trail-blazer for it’s expanding engagement with indigenous communities.

Deborah Salvagno told SBS, “They are the only Aboriginal Brigade within CFA so they are a prototype and offer a mentoring role for others around the state.”

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