Wildfires are destroying Australia on an unthinkable scale. And while the whole country is combating the flames, we want you to take a look at the efforts of one particular crew. The Lakes Tyers Aboriginal Trust Country Fire Authority, an all-women, all-indigenous brigade who are the perfect example of their people’s resilience.
Image credits: Country Fire Authority
Image credits: CFAChiefOfficer
The Lakes Tyers Aboriginal Trust Country Fire Authority was set up 20 years ago. Now, Charmaine Sellings, 52, is in charge of the group, and the fully-trained team have already had some pretty big fights under their belts. Like the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
Image credits: Charmaine Sellings
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Like so many parts of Australia, Lake Tyers in eastern Victoria has been suffering a crippling drought, so Charmaine and the Country Fire Authority Brigade have already forgotten about a summer break. Instead, they’re taking care of their tinder-box patch of sacred land.
“Things are pretty desperate,” Charmaine told Now To Love, “we are in extreme conditions, our dams are empty and it’s not a good situation.”
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“The crew will work around the clock. We hope for a quiet summer but we fear the worst.” Charmaine’s crew is the country’s first all-indigenous, all-female fire brigade.
Image credits: NACCHOAustralia
“We are the lifeline if anything goes wrong, so we have an important role to play, and I think people are generally very grateful for what we do,” Charmaine says.
“It’s not that men aren’t welcome – in fact, we’d love the fellas to join us and help out!” Charmaine explained.
“Every now and then a fella comes along but they don’t seem to last too long. I don’t think they like taking orders from me,” she laughed.
Image credits: NACCHOAustralia
The brigade was born two decades ago when deliberately lit fires burned down a house. Since the nearest fire crew was a 45-minute-drive away, Charmaine and her friends Rhonda Thorpe and Marjorie Proctor asked the CFA to train them up to protect the culturally significant land.
Soon, they started knocking on their neighbors’ doors, looking for volunteers. Eight women signed up for the inaugural brigade.
“When we first set up the brigade, the men called us the Banana Women because of our bright yellow outfits. We had a giggle about it because they were a bit jealous of us, but the name stuck and that’s what we call ourselves today.”
To them and others who joined later, their work is not only about protecting the community, but preserving their story as well. “There’s ‘scatters’ (clusters of artifacts) all through this bush,” Charmaine said, as she showed an area just a short walk from her home where 179 artifacts were found.
The proud Kurnai woman then pointed to the eucalyptus with visible wounds from where the bark was stripped hundreds of years ago to make canoes, shields, and infant carriers.
Image credits: ABC
The area is also home to many significant sites that tell stories about the history of the local Aboriginal community. In 1863, after years and years of conflict between white settlers and the Kurnai people, the Church of England commandeered the peninsula and established a colony, called the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission.
Aboriginal people from all over Victoria were removed from their homelands with force and brought to the mission. One of these “stolen” children was Charmaine’s great-grandfather, who had to leave his family home near Healesville.
“He never understood why he was taken – no one ever told him. He was only a little boy, ripped away from his family,” she said. “There’s a lot of history here. We still have some troubles – grog and unemployment particularly – and discrimination.”
So far, Charmaine can’t hang up her bright yellow overalls yet. “I keep saying I’m going to retire, but I never get around to it,” she laughs, “I can’t imagine not doing it. This is our lives – it is part of who we are – it’s part of me now. They’ll bury me in my yellows!”
People applauded the crew and their efforts in fighting Australia’s wildfires
Image credits: AJCklimatet
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