Volunteer-run charity BlazeAid continues to mend much more than fences, 11 years after it was established.
Story + photos Ricky French
There’s a granite rock high in the Upper Murray Valley, where Mick Sutcliffe comes to sit and gaze over his cattle farm to the gently coiling Murray River below. His aptly named Valley View property clings to a hillside on the Victorian side of the river, between Walwa and Tintaldra, around 120km east of Wodonga. Over the years Mick has seen the best of times and the worst of times from his favourite granite perch. Last year he saw both in the same year.
The ferocious Green Valley bushfire reached his farm on January 4, 2020, tearing through his property, razing his pasture and destroying his fences on its way to burning over 300,000ha through the Upper Murray. Winter rain turned the blackened valley green, but the damage was done. Mick’s land is peppered with skeletal stringybarks, some that will never grow again. But he isn’t looking back; he’s focused on the generosity that’s blooming right now in his paddock.
A team from volunteer-run charity BlazeAid is helping Mick build new fences, turning up each day at 8am to hammer star pickets and run wire, working alongside Mick to rebuild what was lost. Ostensibly, they’re replacing bare ground with fences, but they’re also replacing despondency with hope. There are 26 volunteers at the Walwa BlazeAid camp and each is there for one reason: to give back to farmers in need.
This story excerpt is from Issue #135
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2021