Should BlazeAid move on or stay?

ABOVE: Wayne and Cindy Lusted are the BlazeAid coordinators at the Rappville camp. Photo: Susanna Freymark

Susanna Freymark

The Richmond Valley Council’s acknowledgement of the work done by BlazeAid volunteers in the past three years was more like a goodbye than a thank you at the council meeting yesterday, Tuesday, December 20.

And BlazeAid isn’t thrilled about it.

BlazeAid volunteers fix fences for free. They’ve been helping farmers since the 2019 bushfires and now are focused on fencing destroyed by flooding.

The volunteers come from across Australia and the two new coordinators – Cindy and Wayne Lusted from Tasmania – came to BlazeAid in Casino three months ago then became coordinators four weeks ago.

“We want to be able to stay,” Ms Lusted said.

“If we can’t find a place, we have to go.”

The BlazeAid camp at the Rappville Sportsground was a temporary solution and only available for three months.

The council first hosted BlazeAid at the Casino Showground in 2019 after the bushfires. There were some gaps in that time when the camp was there because of covid lockdowns.

When the $10 million showground upgrade started in October, the BlazeAid camp had to find a new home.

Council’s general manager Vaughan Macdonald said they looked at options and even asked neighbouring councils if they had a place for a BlazeAid camp given that the volunteers worked across council borders.

“We had a lot of conversations with Lismore and Kyogle,” Mr Macdonald said.

“Barriers tend to be put in place as some councils are good at doing. That’s where we ended up.”

The BlazeAid camp needs space for up to 10 vans, power, water and a kitchen.

The only suitable place ended up being Rappville.

The problem is Rappville residents want the sportsground back, Mr Macdonald and Mayor Robert Mustow said.

The sportsground has been used for dog trials, rodeos and family functions.

Ms Lusted disputes the council’s assertion that Rappville residents want their sportsground back.

With most of BlazeAid’s current work around Coraki, the hockey fields were considered.

“The amenities are not set up and there is no power,” Mr Macdonald said.

There is another factor in all this. The tenure for BlazeAid expires on January 20.

The council pays the cost of the camp for BlazeAid then recoups that money through applications to Resilience NSW.

With Resilience NSW dismantled, that entire arrangement is up in the air.

Mr Macdonald said another consideration was the fencing contractors in the area.

“How long do you provide fencing for free?” he said.

The Lusteds simply care about helping the farmers registered with BlazeAid for fencing repairs.

“We’ve got 160 left to do,” Ms Lusted said.

Mr Mustow said BlazeAid has been a great friend of the community

“Thanks, BlazeAid for your help when we were down on our knees,” Mr Mustow said.

“BlazeAid were fully aware (Rappville) was temporary.

“I’d like to see if we could find somewhere for them to move to. We must do our best to help them.”

Is it time for BlazeAid to move to another area that needs help? Or should they fight to stay – and where is there a suitable place for their camp?

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