Facebook | Charmaine Sellings

All-Female, All-Indigenous Fire Crew Protects Sacred Land In Australia

Ryan Ford 9 Jan 2020

Those of us in cities often take for granted that when emergencies happen, help is only a phone call away. It's not quite so easy for those living in rural areas, however. Yes, the call can be made, but the response times are not going to be the same, even as the responders do their best.

For one community in Australia, the best answer was simply to do it themselves.

The Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust is a self-governing Aboriginal community in the state of Victoria.

Twitter | @CFA_Members

About 18 years ago, the area was suffering through a spate of deliberately lit fires, the worst of which resulted in a house burning down. With the nearest fire truck 45 minutes away, they realized they'd have to do it themselves.

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And so, that's exactly what they did.

"Before we first started we were getting fires every week," Charmaine Sellings told ABC News. "We'd have trucks coming in and it got to the point they were getting sick of it too. After the last bad incident, I stood up and said we're going to get a crew together."

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It's been a wise decision on their part.

Even before this year's historically bad fire season, Lake Tyers Trust was a challenging place for fires.

It's on an isolated peninsula, with just one road in or out of the community, and much of the land around it is sacred to the indigenous people who live there.

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"There are communities, there is cultural history, there is background to the lands where they're going to fight fires, like in the bush," Sellings said.

Twitter | @CFASouthEastACO

"In one spot there's 179 artifacts in the ground. We had one of the tankers coming down the hill, I knew where it was going to go straight for and I stood in front of it. That truck stopped, they got out, ready to say what are you doing? When I said you can't drive over this area, they understood straight away that it was cultural and they drove around it."

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The Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust Country Fire Authority had an almost immediate impact after it was formed.

"Once we all got the training, the fires literally stopped," Sellings said. But of course, there are still dangers, from things like campfires out in the bush left by illegal campers.

"Just one crack of lightning on a stormy day could be disastrous," she told Women's Weekly.

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But, oddly enough, it's just been women stepping up for Lake Tyers.

And largely mothers and grandmothers like Selling, now a 52-year-old grandmother of three.

"It's not that men aren't welcome — in fact we'd love the fellas to join us and help out!" she said. "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."

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One good bloke has stuck around for a while, however.

Facebook | Wairewa Fire Brigade

Julian "Tiny" Edwards is the brigade's newest and only male member. He says he's committed to helping the brigade stay in place, doing the important work it does.

"[The fire problem] would probably go back to the way it was if the CFA left, and that's not good," he said.

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Over the years, their role has evolved.

Facebook | Charmaine Sellings

While at first, the Lake Tyers Trust brigade were concerned largely with their own area, they were increasingly called upon to help out with fires and road accidents further afield.

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Moreover, they've been active in educating other fire crews on how to recognize culturally sensitive landmarks, as well as indigenous land and fire management techniques.

Facebook | CFA (Country Fire Authority)

"We all need to work together to deal with the threat of fire," Selling said. "Traditional blackfella ways are very effective. We need to share all our knowledge of managing the bush — white man's ways and black man's ways. We have a lot to learn from one another."

h/t: Women's Weekly, ABC News

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