By Helen Tatchell
It started out as a truck convoy of hay from Ballan to bushfire ravaged towns in East Gippsland; it ended with raw emotion, grief and despair.
Local businesses and farmers did not hesitate to contribute much needed fodder for victims of the recent bushfires, that have razed the landscape and pastures in Bruthen, Buchan and Orbost.
This was the second hay run. The first was a week prior from Dunnstown, organised in 48-hours by Karl and Laiken Britt, and involved 26-trucks and approximately $90,000 of fodder, all donated from locals in the area.
Mr Britt, a former dairy farmer and now beef farmer, told Sky News he cannot take the credit.
“A mate was burnt out in Buchan and all of a sudden it just grew.”
The 1042-kilometre round trip saw trucks and cars make the journey to Omeo and Bairnsdale, packed with hay for stock, toothbrushes and water for the community.
Mrs Britt said on a Facebook post everything was donated by “our generous farmers and locals around the Dunnstown and Ballarat region.
“We cannot name every sponsor, donation, truck driver or helper individually because we wouldn’t know where to start…. but more importantly, because some businesses don’t wish to be named,” she said.
“All the special people, you know who you are, thank you.”
However, this was only the beginning of the community spirit.
“It’s looking like we are doing another hay run in March,” Mr Britt said.
Then it was then Ballan’s turn with Colin Binks putting a call out for interested transport businesses, drivers and fodder, to make the trek on Sunday 12 January.
They left at dawn in a convoy of seven-trucks and trailers, loaded with 297 donated round and square hay bales, an amount that is estimated to only last farmers four to six weeks, and bore an approximate value of $40,000.
To make the wheels turn, fuel is required.
A Drysdale independent fuel business, who services many locals in Moorabool, did not hesitate when asked to fill the tanks.
David Mortimer (Mortimer Petroleum) said Mr Binks couldn’t get the words out to ask for a donation.
“Colin said he was doing a hay run and I just said, ‘yeah I will donate the fuel’.
“The big fella got quite emotional when I said that,” he said.
Mr Mortimer donated around $5500 worth of diesel for the trucks to make the journey.
“I have donated fuel for years. You got to do what you can.
“Farmers help you back. I have never met a farmer who hasn’t helped.
“It’s not the end of the world is it?” he said.
Fluff Tonkin travelled with her partner Rob Hodge (Hodge Livestock Transport) and said the people and communities are extremely grateful but carry their own grief.
“As we departed it was all quite jovial…..until we entered the recently opened (within 8-hrs) Buchan-Bairnsdale road. It was then radio (CB) silence descended-literally as we observed the landscape. We were swept away with sadness due to the devastation and utter amazement at the limited loss of human life as a result of such a ferocious fire,” Ms Tonkin said.
“Those who received the donated hay where typical old school, hardworking, country characters. Still making a joke and asking if we were okay after our big day when they were the ones with no homes to return to.
“We must not forget,” she said.
A house is a home; however, for eight out of nine residents at Bete Bolong North, the bushfire robbed them of their castles.
“They burned to the ground and there were three brothers with individual houses there; one of those brothers had the only house standing, untouched.
“He is grief stricken that his house is the only one still standing when everyone else around him lost theirs,” Ms Tonkin said.
“You just cannot believe the extent of the damage until you see it with your own eyes and feel the ‘nothingness’ that has been left in the wake of such an event.”
Ms Tonkin said the mood on the return journey was sombre yet an accomplished feeling.
“It seemed every time our conversation digressed to a negative, public acknowledgement would happen. A flash of the lights and thumbs up in the windscreens, toots with waves out windows, and the final gesture…..food gifted to us by the Pakenham Hotel as a thank you for what we had done….. as our trucks sat parked outside their window,” she said.
The Ballan convoy delivered hay to Clifton Creek, Wairewa, Buchan area and Bete Bolong North.