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BlazeAid volunteers lend a hand in flood-affected north-west Queensland

By Kelly Butterworth and Zara Margolis, Saturday March 16, 2019 - 20:13 EDT
ABC image
Some of the volunteers helping Richmond recover from the devastating floods. - ABC

As the floodwater recedes in north-west Queensland, the true devastation of the monsoon low is becoming apparent.

Cattle dead in the hundreds of thousands, top soil gone, fences destroyed and full of debris, and wire twisted in ways no human could have achieved.

One property owner, Corbett Tritton of Silver Hills, just north of Richmond, summed up the incident in one sentence:

"We do floods, we do droughts, but we don't do tsunamis," he said.

The sheer force of the floodwaters that ravaged the country is now being seen, and communities are in shock — wondering how they can recover from so much destruction.

In Richmond, one house is full to the brim with donations from all over Queensland, alongside rooms full of the swags of .

The volunteers have come from far and wide, armed with fly nets, boots, and hats — ready to help those graziers affected by the floods.

Now, 60 people have signed their name on the dotted line in the small town, giving their time and energy for nothing in return — other than the extreme gratitude of those they are assisting.

Alexis Elder



Alexis Elder is just 18 years old, but we found her out among the flies, pulling up fences, clearing debris, and sweating it out at Silver Hills, north of Richmond, with a crew of three other women from BlazeAid.

It was Ms Elder's first time volunteering for the organisation, and she said the experience had been incredible.

"It just makes me feel so warm inside just to be able to help them out," Ms Elder said.

"I probably can't do much, but I'll do as much as I can to help out."

Originally from Rockhampton, Ms Elder moved to Muttaburra last year.

She said the work with BlazeAid was rewarding, but emotional.

"Mainly we've just been clearing fences and fixing up where they've been snapped, and trying to dig up all the mud so we can put the fences back together," she said.

"It's pretty hard — sometimes I can't even do it, and we have to just give up on it and go on to the next one.

"But we always come back with a buggy or a bike just so we can pull up … it's horrible."

John Lillico



In Richmond, the name John Lillico is — the organisation that has flown into town, asking for no help, no food, and no accommodation, but giving as much as it can.

The organisation is run by volunteers like Mr Lillico, who is the coordinator for Richmond.

His job entails not only organising volunteers, but donations, logistics, and everything else from transport to toilet paper.

"The first day I was here, I went out along the Flinders River, and it was just a mess … terrible, fences all down, cattle up trees, dead stock everywhere, mud … it was terrible," Mr Lillico said.

"Floods are the worst disaster of the lot, and I've been through all of them."

Mr Lillico said the Richmond disaster had been one that has truly shown the generosity of rural communities.

"I had a lady ring me the other day from down Clermont way with two truckloads of food, produce, calf feed, horse feed, chook feed, and she had 400 prepared frozen meals," he said.

"I said, 'I haven't got a freezer to put it in', and she said, 'Don't worry, there are four freezers coming with it'.

"How good is that?"

Corbett Tritton



Grazier and grain farmer Corbett Tritton, from Silver Hills Station, Richmond, said he had no idea BlazeAid volunteers were coming to his property until he found them there.

He said the entire experience with the organisation was "humbling", and that he had no idea how to repay the volunteers working tirelessly alongside his own employees.

Mr Tritton said until his team mustered cattle at the end of the month, they would not truly know the full losses of cattle on the property.



"By early next month we'll know where we are at with the inventory, and hopefully there are not too many losses," he said.

"We know we've lost hundreds, but how many hundreds we don't know yet."

With BlazeAid on the ground helping with the recovery, Mr Tritton said he never signed up for anything — the volunteers simply "just turned up".

"There were people pulling sticks off fences and we didn't even know," he said.

"And they just keep turning up … they just come in the morning and do their bit.

"It's absolutely terrific, it's humbling. The generosity of people is amazing."

Darlene Neill-Ballantine



She may have grown up on a cattle property at Bauhinia in Central Queensland, but it has been a long time since Darlene Neill-Ballantine has found herself fencing in the heat.

That was until she joined the BlazeAid recovery crew in Richmond, and the now-Yeppoon local dug into her memory to remind herself how to pull wire and deal with flies.

"My first couple of days … we were shovelling mud underneath a gentleman's house," Ms Neill-Ballantine said.

"We did that for two days, so that was pretty hard yakka."

She said she likened the camaraderie within BlazeAid to going to boarding school.

"It's amazing, I mean we've only known each other two weeks and it's nearly like an instant bond, like when you go to boarding school and it's your new-found family," she said.

"We try to make it fun so we get up again the next day."



Ms Neill-Ballantine said, for her, every fly accidentally swallowed and every blister was more than worth it.

"It's just being here, and the property owners just knowing that there's support here is a huge mental help," she said.

"It's just [about property owners] knowing that people give a damn, I guess."

Community appreciation



Richmond Shire Mayor John Wharton said BlazeAid volunteers were more than welcome in the town, as they were fully self-sufficient, and supported local businesses.

"Assistance has got to be done right, and BlazeAid know how to do it right," Councillor Wharton said.

"We can get assistance that can actually damage your own economy. That's the last thing we want.

"We don't want any assistance to come along and put stuff in our community that is free, that can be bought at the local shop."

Cr Wharton said he admired BlazeAid's ability to move into a community without assistance.

"They just move in and do what they need to do, they don't need us," he said.



"We have been going pretty flat out since this started, and the last thing you want to do is show people where they can sleep, where they can camp.

"They gave out vouchers for $3,000 to a lot of producers, and they've spent it in our local communities. That's the sort of thing that drives our economy."

Cr Wharton estimated 80 per cent of the shire was impacted by the flood event.


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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