Navy returns to Eden to aid in bushfire recovery

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Jessica Craig (author), ABIS Leon Dafonte Fernandez (photographer)

Location(s): Bega Valley, NSW

Topic(s): Community Engagement, NUSHIP Supply (A195), Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST

NUSHIP Supply crew with BlazeAid volunteers and bushfire assistance recipients, Barry and Nerida Heseltine, at their farm in Bega Valley Shire, NSW. (photo: ABIS Leon Dafonte Fernandez)
NUSHIP Supply crew with BlazeAid volunteers and bushfire assistance recipients, Barry and Nerida Heseltine, at their farm in Bega Valley Shire, NSW.

Almost a year after HMAS Adelaide provided logistics support to Eden during the bushfire crisis, Navy returned to help the still recovering community rebuild.

Proudly representing Navy and the Australian Defence Force, the NUSHIP Supply crew travelled down to the Bega Valley Shire to help rebuild fences that were lost during the bushfires and bring life back to a local oval that was used as an evacuation point.

Executive Officer NUSHIP Supply, Lieutenant Commander Peter Dargan, said the crew were honoured to be able to assist the community alongside volunteer organisations BlazeAid and BizRebuild.

“It is an honour to return to Eden, be welcomed by the community, and take over where HMAS Adelaide left off earlier this year,” Lieutenant Commander Dargan said.

“It is also serves as a timely reminder as we enter another high risk weather season that we need to be ready to be called upon to provide assistance again should it be needed.

“The stories we have heard this week have shown just how meaningful support from the ADF is to Australian communities.”

Octogenarians and local residents Barry and Nerida Heseltine could not contain their smiles when Supply crew members pulled up with BlazeAid to help them rebuild fences destroyed by the fires.

“We stayed and fought the fire, which was a silly thing to do, but you don’t think about it at the time,” Mr Heseltine said.

“I’ve been in the Rural Fire Service for 23 years and I’ve never seen fires that bad. I will never forget the sound.

“We are still suffering the impacts, and not just on our property. I’ve lost my sense of smell and Nerida’s lost hearing in one ear, burnt her feet and has lung problems. It’s affected us a lot.”

The fire ravaged the mountains lining the couple’s alpaca farm and roared into their property before they could get all their animals out.

Coming close to their home, it was only by chance and Nerida’s bravery with a melting garden hose that saved them.

Even so, the couple said they were overwhelmed with the amount of work that still needs to be done to the property.

“Before the Navy came we didn’t know what we were going to do. So much work needs to be done and we’re older so it is overwhelming,” Mrs Heseltine said.

“We woke up early this morning because we were so excited knowing we were going to get some help.

“When the Navy pulled up we were overjoyed. This is the greatest Christmas present ever and we thank the Navy so very much. We’ll have smiles for weeks.”

Lieutenant Commander Dargan said stories such as the Heseltine’s have etched the experience into the minds of the crew and reinforced why they for signed up to serve Australia.

“We all joined the Navy to serve, so to come down here and serve our local community is humbling,” Lieutenant Commander Dargan said.

“The stories of resilience that this community have told are inspiring and it’s good for our crew to know that even without a ship we can still contribute to Australia and Navy.”

Leading Seaman Coxswain Brooke Summers, who was in Adelaide during Operation BUSHFIRE ASSIST 19-20, said coming back to Eden and helping the community had been a moving experience.

“It’s good to see people out and about and it feels amazing to come back and support the community again,” Leading Seaman Summers said.

“The locals have reacted quite well to us being here. I’ve had conversations with some who have expressed their thanks about how happy they were knowing Adelaide was ready to evacuate them if needed, and that we’ve come back to support them.”

Supply hopes to create more opportunities for their team to assist the Bega Valley Shire community. In the meantime, BlazeAid needs volunteers. Cobargo BlazeAid alone has 355 properties registered and relies on volunteers and donations. Many of the other BlazeAid locations have closed due to lack of volunteers. Contact BlazeAid Cobargo on Facebook to see how you can help.

NUSHIP Supply crew members pose together following a community engagement event to rebuild fences which were lost during the 2019 bushfire crisis in Bega Valley Shire, NSW. L-R, back row: Able Seaman Marine Technician Cody McNulty; and Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Tegan Bradley. Middle: Sub Lieutenant Harry Nixon. Front: Leading Seaman Coxswain Brooke Summers; and Seaman Communication Information Systems Tanner Williams.

NUSHIP Supply crew members pose together following a community engagement event to rebuild fences which were lost during the 2019 bushfire crisis in Bega Valley Shire, NSW. L-R, back row: Able Seaman Marine Technician Cody McNulty; and Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Tegan Bradley. Middle: Sub Lieutenant Harry Nixon. Front: Leading Seaman Coxswain Brooke Summers; and Seaman Communication Information Systems Tanner Williams.