ADF bond with Mallacoota community forged by fire

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Max Logan (author), LSIS Kieren Whiteley (photographer)

Location(s): Mallacoota, Vic

Topic(s): HMAS Choules (L100), Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST

Commanding Officer HMAS Choules Commander Scott Houlihan speaks with Emergency Management Commissioner for Victoria Andrew Crisp, APM, during a ceremony held to commemorate the efforts of all involved with the bushfire effort in Mallacoota. (photo: LSIS Kieren Whiteley)
Commanding Officer HMAS Choules Commander Scott Houlihan speaks with Emergency Management Commissioner for Victoria Andrew Crisp, APM, during a ceremony held to commemorate the efforts of all involved with the bushfire effort in Mallacoota.

The unveiling of a plaque in the heart of Mallacoota will become a strong symbol of the close bond between the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and local community forged during the devastating 2019-2020 bushfires.

Members of HMAS Choules’ ship’s company involved in the two January evacuations totalling almost 1400 residents were flown by the ship’s embarked MRH-90 helicopter to Mallacoota to meet with community members and witness the unveiling of the plaque.

The aircraft and two Australian Army Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles were put on display for locals while the Royal Australian Navy Band provided musical support during a local Lions Club barbecue lunch.

Commander Joint Task Force 646, Brigadier Matt Burr joined residents young and old to unveil the plaque, which is mounted on a large piece of wood salvaged from fires in the local area.

Commanding Officer Choules, Commander Scott Houlihan said the ship’s company and residents had been through a lot together in early January.

“It’s a really close bond between Mallacoota and HMAS Choules - it’s one of the tightest bonds I’ve seen between a ship, the community, and the emergency services,” he said.

The visit to Mallacoota gave locals the chance to reconnect with some of the Choules members who had helped them out during Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20.

“The plaque unveiling marked the end of the movement of the ADF out of Mallacoota and also a great opportunity for the ADF, Choules’ personnel, emergency services agencies and the locals to get together to say thank you and catch up after what was a really busy, stressful and hectic time so early in the year.

“The plaque is a marker in time for us to be able to remember for years to come, what happened in Mallacoota in January 2020 and the unique bond between the ADF and the community. 

The plaque presented to Mallacoota by the Australian Defence Force commemorating the efforts of all involved in saving Mallacoota from the bushfires.

The plaque presented to Mallacoota by the Australian Defence Force commemorating the efforts of all involved in saving Mallacoota from the bushfires.

Brigadier Matt Burr said the ADF’s presence in the community had been warmly received.

“The plaque unveiling symbolises our thanks - thanks to the community for embracing us and warmly welcoming us here and allowing us to assist.

“The plaque is all about a sense of where we are today and where we will be helping the community stand up and be with dignity as it goes into recovery.

“The sense of service that soldiers, sailors and aircrew have felt towards this small community in Victoria has been reflected by the locals’ own outpouring during the unveiling of the plaque.

“The ADF is humbled to be a part of Mallacoota and the experience of its community,” Brigadier Burr said.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is continuing support to State and Territory agencies and local communities under Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 2019-2020. Three Joint Task Forces have been established to facilitate ADF support to emergency services in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.