Backpackers working with BlazeAid create a bridge between varied cultures and fire-devastated farmersMay 18th, 2020 | | backpacker
Playing Monopoly or building a volleyball court in a showground in a country town are not the images usually associated with international backpackers spending up to two years in Australia.
A veritable league of nations is assisting with the rebuilding of fences and other farm infrastructure across NSW after bushfires ravaged the state earlier this year.
For international backpackers in Australia, their holiday was likely to be cut short because of being unable to work due to strict coronavirus guidelines.
Making a difference
They received a reprieve when the Government allowed people like Ben Braid from Scotland to carry out volunteer work with organisations like BlazeAid assisting farmers to rebuild their fences destroyed in the fires.
“When you rebuild, and the farmer looks back and sees the old fences back up and working, it makes you feel a lot better realising that you have helped,” Mr Braid who is in his first year of his working visa.
It is a sentiment shared by numerous overseas backpackers who have had their journey across the globe greatly changed because of the pandemic.
Guidelines to follow
It is a long way from Kent in England to the Wingham Showground which is home to 29-year-old Sophie Hampton while she works with Ben Braid and other volunteers.
“There is a big track that goes around, and we’ve been doing a lot of running and things like yoga. We are trying to keep active as much as possible.
“Listening to music and sitting around a fire is popular. Card games as well and Monopoly is a big one which becomes quite competitive.”
All of this happens at the end of the day after returning from the various farms.
Their efforts are being governed by strict guidelines which set out how they must live and carry out their BlazeAid duties.
While much has been relaxed, many of the normal day to day activities such as shopping are done for them.
In the south of the state, the guidelines are a little more relaxed, as there are fewer people to encounter in the areas where the work is being conducted.
A BlazeAid team is camped on the western edge of the Snowy Mountains, at the showground in the tiny village of Tooma near Tumbarumba.
Here the Dunn’s Road bushfire tore through thousands of hectares of valuable farmland, orchards, national park and pine forests.
The Tooma showground is stark and like the Wingham showground the teams are living in vans, swag or tent although at Wingham there are several shipping containers converted to living quarters.
The conditions are very different to what backpackers would normally encounter on the more worn paths of young international travellers.
It has even led to Erika Bayard from France who helps co-coordinate the Tooma BlazeAid team to note that while the work may be quite physical, there is the question of added calories.
This is due to Argentinian volunteer Genoveva Cabrera, a qualified chef ensuring the camp food is first class. “We get amazing food every day, we’re getting fat.
“Which is surprising as we’re working so hard,” Ms Bayard said.
“We’re eating all these home-made cakes and everything. We’re pretty lucky. Sometimes a nice farmer comes along with fresh lamb and we have a nice roast.”
‘Amazing and grateful’
It is that contact with locals and the work that they are doing in a rural area that Ms Bayard believes adds to the experience.
“We’re getting to know real Australian culture, and everyone is so friendly and so open. “They’re so amazing and so grateful to have people coming from all around the world to help them and we’re having a great time with everyone here.”
It is a sentiment echoed by Marilyn Spence who along with husband Geoff had the international BlazeAid backpackers out to their Bobin property near Wingham for five weeks.
The fire forced them to sell off much of their Brangus cattle with the remainder going to their son’s property in the Hunter Valley.
The backpackers-come-fencers repaired four kilometres of boundary fences.
“We’ve had around eight different nationalities. They were keen to learn. Could not fault them. Never a grumble never a complaint. The bubble and laughter were wonderful,” Mrs Spence said.
Back home hears of their work
So impressed was Mrs Spence, that she did a “mothering thing” after the volunteers had finished. “I wanted the parents to know how wonderful they were and a delight.
“I thought their parents would like to know, so sent a few photos and a letter saying thank you for allowing them to travel and to have them around.”
Ms Bayard said they looked forward to restrictions easing to welcome more members to the crew which is a far cry from most people’s lockdown experience.
“My friends back home in Europe or in lockdown in the cities, they can’t get out of their place and they’re bored out of their mind.
“They’re texting me every day and I don’t have time to text them back because we’re so busy here.
“The biggest issue we have in lockdown is trying to get new volunteers while keeping everyone safe and trying not to spread the virus in a small community like Tooma.”
Sourced by Mike Barrow