By now, you’ve heard about the awful and massive fires burning their way through huge swaths of Australia. On top of the terrible damage to the land, it’s estimated that 1 BILLION animals have died in the blazes. People from all over Australia and the world are pitching in to help in any way they can – including some that are pretty unorthodox. In one small Aboriginal community, a group all-female, all-indigenous firefighters are leading the charge to protect their town and their sacred lands.
The town is Lake Tyers in eastern Victoria, home to about 200 indigenous Australians. The town lies on a small, isolated peninsula and has just one access road in and out. The Lake Tyers Fire Brigade is led by Charmaine Sellings and the group is fighting hard against the blazes. Sellings said, “Just one crack of lightning on a stormy day could be disastrous. Things are pretty desperate. We are in extreme conditions, our dams are empty and it’s not a good situation. The crew will work around the clock. We hope for a quiet summer but we fear the worst.”
Lake Tyers Fire Brigade Firefighter, Charmaine Sellings is pictured with the brigade’s new Ultralight vehicle that adorns CFA commissioned artwork ‘Working Together’. Lake Tyers brigade is CFA’s only Indigenous brigade, led by a team of Gunaikurnai women. pic.twitter.com/pQIhsHeaoG
— CFA Chief Officer (@CFAChiefOfficer) November 4, 2019
The fire brigade led by Sellings is the first of its kind in Australia and is made up of mothers and grandmothers in Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust, a self-governing community. The remote town is surrounding by thick bush on one side and a system of lakes on the other side.
Sellings said, “We are the lifeline if anything goes wrong, so we have an important role to play, and I think people are generally very grateful for what we do. There was a sense of helplessness before we came along but we feel empowered that we can look after ourselves and our people whatever the situation. The community is proud of us and they value us.”
— DiversityCouncilAust (@DivCouncilAus) January 8, 2020
About 20 years ago, a series of arson fires threatened the land of Lake Tyers and the nearest fire brigade was 45 minutes away. In response, Charmaine Sellings and her friends Rhonda Thorpe and Marjorie Proctor decided to form their own firefighting squad with other local women.
I just got back from Lake Tyers community, where about 40 people are preparing for another bad day on Saturday. They’re running out of water and only have a slip-on tank for the ute. Charmaine Sellings, the fire captain, is worried but she says the community is holding together. pic.twitter.com/2uJKpTLtsn
— Calla Wahlquist (@callapilla) January 1, 2020
The women are not only saving lives and structures but also “scatters,” or clusters of historical artifacts that are scattered throughout the bush around Lake Tyers. Today, the fire crew consists of four women, with a few other volunteers who pitch in when they can.
Keep up the great work!