An Indigenous, All-Female Fire Brigade is Working Around The Clock To Help Fight Australia’s Raging Wildfires

January 12, 2020 at 1:34 am

Meet the Aboriginal mothers and grandmothers who’ve formed their own volunteer fire brigade to protect their ‘sacred’ land

A group of eight indigenous Australian women have banded together to protect their native land from the  historic wildfires racing across the continent.

More than 45 minutes from the nearest fire station, their isolated Aboriginal community has always been vulnerable to bush-fire, now more than ever.

Like much of Australia, Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust has suffered crippling drought several years in a row.

After discovering the nearest fire truck was 45 minutes away, grandmother Charmaine Sellings started a local volunteer fire brigade made up of eight women, mostly mothers and grandmothers.

After watching one of the houses in their community burn down 20 years ago, the women decided to take matters into their own hands.

“We are the lifeline if anything goes wrong,” Charmaine tells Women’s Weekly.

“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.”

It’s not that men aren’t welcome to join the fire brigade, but “they don’t seem to last too long,” Charmaine says.

“I don’t think they like taking orders from me,” she laughs.

Charmaine says shw was “terrified” the first time she had to use a chainsaw to cut a path through fallen trees, but now she “loves it” and can “clear a scene in no time at all.”The women not only protect their home community of 200 people, but are called out to car accidents, fires and other emergencies all over the state of Victoria.

“For these unique fireys, the brigade is about much more than just protecting the community – it is also about protecting their story,” Women’s Weekly notes.

“There’s ‘scatters’ (clusters of artifacts) all through this bush,” says Charmaine of an area near her home where 179 ancient Kurnai artifacts were found.

She pointed out scarred eucalyptus trees whose bark had been stripped hundreds of years ago to make canoes, shields and infant carriers.

Charmaine trains fighters inside and outside of her community to identify and protect culturally significant sites.

She’s passionate about sharing indigenous fire management strategies, which often differ greatly from modern strategies.
“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,” she says.