THE first wave of WA Fencing Farmers volunteers left Norseman on the weekend headed to Kangaroo Island, South Australia, to assist with rebuilding fences after recent devastating bushfires.
Thirty six volunteers from across Wsetern Australia left in a convoy of 13 vehicles, including about six trailers packed with fencing tools and supplies, to meet up with BlazeAid and work under its direction to assist other farmers affected by the fires.
WA Fencing Farmers, a group which came together in the past few weeks under the leadership of Arthur River farmer Sam Burgess and Hedland Export Depot manager Paul Brown, were amazed by the support from regional and rural businesses - donating chainsaws and fencing tools to the cause.
The Minderoo Group, owned by Andrew Forrest, threw its support behind the effort after it announced its $70 million Minderoo Foundation's Fire Fund in early 2020, with $10m directly supporting volunteer groups such as WA Fencing Farmers to get to Kangaroo Island and other parts of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia as needed.
Minderoo released a statement last week praising the efforts of the group's organisers saying, "In a matter of weeks, the pair generated interest from more than 60 people willing to donate their time and their labour to travel to the island and spend time on the ground as part of the rebuild effort".
"Minderoo Foundation's Fire Fund is pleased to be working with WA Fencing Farmers to fund the cost of travel, including ferry tickets, to transport the teams and their gear," it said.
The first group of 36 people, 13 vehicles and two vans will arrive on the island late on Sunday afternoon, after being hosted by local councils in Norseman and Kimba along the way.
A second group of about 30 people will depart WA next Tuesday, February 25.
Minderoo Foundation chief executive officer Andrew Hagger said the volunteers were self-starters, ready and willing to make the journey but needing some financial assistance to get there.
"This is really about farmers wanting to help farmers," Mr Hagger said.
"They are a fantastic group of volunteers with the skills to help in a difficult situation.
"Our Fire Fund contribution will provide extra support to get them over to the island, where we know their fellow farmers will be more than happy for their support.
"Replacement fencing continues to be a key issue for fire affected communities, so this has been a focus area for our Fire Fund."
Mr Brown, who is leading the first wave of volunteers, said he and Mr Burgess had been overwhelmed with the response and offers of help.
Some small WA towns, such as Augusta, have held fundraising events to help with costs.
"Our volunteers are coming from everywhere, we've got people from Northampton, the Wheatbelt, Busselton and all the way down to Esperance," Mr Brown said.
"With the two days travel either way, we'll be spending 10 days on the island doing whatever needs to be done.
"We can fence, build sheds or yards.
"We've got blokes who can weld - we'll make cups of tea if that's what they need."
Mr Burgess will lead the second wave of volunteers.
Minderoo Foundation Fire Fund's contribution to WA Fencing Farmers comes after Minderoo Foundation supported BlazeAid to fund 10 new specialist fencing trailers.
It has also supported NSW organisation BackTrack with its fencing repair work in the Nymboida area.
Minderoo Foundation's Fire Fund was launched early in 2020 with a pledge from Minderoo Foundation of $70m to help rebuild communities, revitalise local economies and develop a long-term blueprint for fire resilience in Australia.
Minderoo Foundation has been on the ground in bushfire-affected towns, listening to what communities need and helping to deliver practical solutions.
Fire Fund has three distinct focus areas:
Response: mobilising volunteers to support clean up and recovery efforts in NSW, Victoria and South Australia in response to direct requests - with $10m allocated to support the deployment of volunteers into fire-affected areas.
Recovery: direct, on-the-ground support for affected communities as they rebuild, with a focus on grassroots projects.
A further $10 million has been allocated to deliver practical infrastructure solutions to help communities rise again.
Resilience: a long-term resilience plan convening leading experts to develop a globally relevant national blueprint for fire and disaster resilience.
This program aims to pilot new practices and invest in the application of evidence-based techniques which will have relevance to bushfire and disaster-prone regions around the world.