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Waranga Group is gold

Posted by Leith Hillard
Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Waranga Group was recently given a Loddon Mallee Region Initiative Award for a community involvement program it runs with the Rushworth P-12 College for their Year Nine students.

“It’s been identified that Year Nine students are at risk of becoming disengaged from school,” says Deputy Group Officer Robert Brown. “The program was set up about 10 years ago in partnership with the school while we were in District 22. Its purpose was to give the kids a sense of community and show them a different style of learning, and that’s still what it’s about.”

The program begins in term two and runs until half way through final term. Students are taken through minimum skills by members of Colbinabbin, Stanhope and Rushworth brigades from Waranga Group, while District 22’s Murchison brigade also remains committed.

And what a commitment. “It’s predominantly the same members involved,” continues Robert. “They’re in there by 9am every Wednesday and finish up about 1pm. It can get pretty tough finding the time every week but the rewards are worth it.

“It gets CFA within the school. What’s great is to see the kids develop over the year. They start out pretty quiet but by the end of the year they’re quite active and involved.

“Rushworth, Stanhope, Colbinabbin and Murchison Brigades have all got quite a few new members out of the program, and they tend to become very strong members in the brigades they join.”

Rushworth brigade

The township of Rushworth with a population of 1000 is surrounded by box-ironbark.

Captain Graeme Wall explains the challenges. “The pockets of Crown land within the township are an issue. There’s bushland with stands of mallee which is a concern because it meets right up with housing.

“We’re surrounded by DSE land with a DSE works depot and they operate an office once a week. The fire trails are not too bad and a lot of the forest is closed off to timber gathering. Fifteen years ago we burnt heaps of roadsides and we still do some burnoffs for locals. That’s what people want. You can have council, private, Crown and roadside all in one block.”

All the agencies meet in Rushworth before each fire season as part of the municipal subcommittee for fire prevention. It’s a sign of good interagency relationships built over time and out of necessity.

“We’re in a small country town,” explains Graeme. “We do everything. We try to work in with SES. The police drop in once a month.

“We’ve got the Waranga Group headquarters in Rushworth and we all work in really well together. We’re all looking for new members but we’re also making the best of what we’ve got. We were called to Rochester during the floods. That said, though, half of our brigade has never been to a grassfire because of drought and flood.”

The brigade has almost 30 members, 20 of them operational. Members’ professions range from beekeeper and nurse to fitter and turner, plumber and shire technical officer. “There’s not a lot of employment in town,” continues Graeme. “The mill has closed. On a weekday we might be lucky to have three on the truck.”

The brigade trains every second Tuesday night with members required to attend 12 training night a year and six out of the 12 brigade meetings. Funds are mostly raised through FEM (fire equipment maintenance) with Graeme, the captain for 20 years, taking on 90 per cent of the work.

Rushworth turns out about 50 times a year and is one of two urban brigades in the group along with Stanhope. Its 1930s shed in the township area is heritage listed and house the tanker and Forward Command Vehicle. The light pumper and brigade-funded slip sit in an adjoining shed built by the brigade.

“We bought an old DSE slip on and rebuilt it,” continues Graeme. “We’re about to change it over with our current one going to Toolleen.”

Photos supplied by Cass Alexander and Rushworth College

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