Team Rubicon Australia Operation Summaries
The end of 2019 and start of 2020 will not be forgotten in a hurry by any Australian, with many regions impacted by drought, then ferocious fires, and followed in some places by flood. But the hardships of the last six months were a coming of age for TRA, as wave after wave of volunteers deployed from around the country and indeed the world in period of previously unseen high tempo for TRA. The excerpts below are from the State Commander’s Operational Narratives out of respective PORs.
Operation PARTRIDGE – Willawarrin, NSW
A successful operation, drawing on the recent bushfire recovery experience from Op Bugden to deliver a faster response and greater impact for the community. The feedback from the Kempsey Shire Council clearly identifies the impact on the local community and the activities that are valued.
This operation put TRA closer to the event than ever before, with active fire fronts in the local area necessitating agile thinking, evacuation planning and real-time inter-agency collaboration.
It also allowed TRA to successfully trial satellite operations as well sustained operational deployments during periods of lower activity and lower volunteer numbers (notably Christmas), proving that there is value in running operations at a lower pace during these periods (from both a community engagement perspective and also for members), rather than closing down and then restarting.
Operation RYAN – Cobargo, NSW
Op Ryan was conducted over eight weeks from 25 January until 21 March. The Operation saw our members working alongside members from Norway and the UK, along with Corporate Volunteers from Minderoo Fire Fund and Allianz, as well as Spontaneous Volunteers.
Based in Cobargo, Op Ryan saw us return to the Bega Valley Shire, which was one of the regions heavily impacted by the bushfires in December 2019 and January 2020. We were supported well by the local community, notably Cobargo Sportsground and Bega Valley Shire Council, as well as a number of other not for profit organisations, principally BlazeAid and Fire Relief Run.
Whilst attening work sites, Strike Teams were able to provide a level of ‘covert’ mental health support by lending a hand, an ear, and a shouler to lean on while completing the tasks at hand. Strike Teams were also bolstered by items of small plant and operators, which had a considerable ‘force multiplier’ effect on task completions.
Notably, Op Ryan was the first TRA operation to be overseen by an appointed State Commander, who provided oversight, mentoring support and a single point of contact for the wider organisation
Operation HANNAFORD – Cudlee Creek, SA
For a first South Australian operation, Op HANNAFORD was extremely successful. High levels of community engagement and support were experienced throughout. The operation was well supported by the National Development team and the wider organisation. We also had the benefit of the presence and participation of International Augmentees from USA, Norway, and UK. The relationship between TRA and other stakeholders that operate in the disaster response/relief space, was enhanced with collaborative efforts conducted throughout. Of particular note was the close working relationship with the Australian Defence Force.
The operation was conducted over four weeks, with further liaison and IMT operations concluding on 20 March. The continued operation of the IMT allowed us to conduct post activity liaison and facilitated us in tasking and making referrals to other NGOs that we had been collaborating with in the area. The overall impact was significant, and feedback from members and stakeholders was positive.
Operation TIGER – Kangaroo Island, SA
Operation TIGER was an extremely positive yet challenging operation. With the impacted area being Kangaroo Island, we were presented with our own unique challenge. Through the coordination and joint effort of all departments across the organisation, the forward movement and deployment of personnel was actioned effectively. Wave One set conditions and prepared the area for ongoing waves, including use of FULCRUM in order to conduct Damage assessments. TRA made efforts from the outset to embed our personnel in the Local Recovery Centres in order to create greater efficiency in the recovery effort. The coordination and liaison here ensured that we were tasked with activities commensurate within our means and capabilities throughout.
As the operation continued the scale and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic began to take effect, government restrictions on movement and the phased closing of state borders meant the rapid demobilisation of not only TRA but other NGOs in the area was inevitable. An accelerated demobilisation of personnel and assets was executed in line with impending restrictions. Although ending prematurely, the operation had a notably positive impact on the island, and prior to cessation of the operation, TRA were poised and ready to commence work on considerable projects with local government. This represents a great opportunity to return and continue our work supporting the community in the area.
Operation Richter – Buchan, Victoria
On 21 November, a band of lightning struck across eastern Victoria, resulting in a large number of bushfire ignitions, which over the following five weeks combined to form three main fires in East Gippsland. The 30th of December 2019 saw worsening weather conditions result in a significant increase in fire behaviour, and over the following 48 hours the fire spread across East Gippsland, impacting a number of towns and causing widespread damage.
Almost two million hectares of forest were destroyed, with over 300 homes lost, and thousands of farm buildings damaged or destroyed. Tragically the fires also claimed five lives; two community members and three staff directly involved in the firefighting effort.
TRA deployed a reconnaissance team to the area on 22 January, with a focus on focus on the town of Buchan and the surrounding Buchan Valley, which had been affected by fire for the third summer in a row.
The generosity of Victorians from across the state resulted in a large amount of aid and emergency supplies being donated to the region, and the Buchan area alone received enough goods to fill the local SES shed and four shipping containers. The influx of goods placed pressure on the community to be able to distribute them appropriately and in a timely manner. TRA was able to take on this task, which meant that key community indviduals were then able ,to focus on their own recovery. And so, with a clear mission and purpose identified, Operation Richter was launched.
Over the course of six weeks 70 deployed members managed and distributed $126,203.55 worth of aid supplies - from toilet paper to animal feed to clothing, across three different distribution centres. Not only did this provide a valuable service to the local community, but it demonstrated TRAs depth of skill and ability to remain flexible and agile in setting mission mandates. In addition to this task, TRA contributed $333,555.75 volunteer hours to the community, and completed 75 work orders, including damage assessments, sifting to recover valuables in destroyed homes, and debris clearance. We were also able to clear the grounds of the Buchan Cave complex, which is the main tourist attraction in the area, expediting their reopening and contributing to the stimulus of the local economy.
Over the course of the deployment, TRA was fortunate to work with a variety of different organisations and agencies, including the local CFA, Forest Fire Management Victoria, visiting Canadian firefighters and the Gelantipy Bush Nurses. Wave One of the deployment was also joined by a team from Fancy Hanks, a Melbourne based BBQ restaurant. In addition to providing our members with fantastic meals, they held a BBQ for the local community, giving them a much-needed break from the endless tasks associated with bushfire recovery.
Our team achieved a huge amount on the ground in Buchan, and we were also able to acknowledge the sacrifice of our operation namesake. Operation Richter was named for Private Philip ‘Pip’ Richter, a local who grew up in the area before being called up to the army as a national serviceman in 1969. Deployed to Vietnam in December 1969, Pip was tragically killed alongside eight fellow diggers on the 28th of February 1970 during Operation Hammersley. It was quickly realised that the 50th anniversary of Pip Richter’s loss would fall during our operation in the area, and with that in mind a commemoration was organised. The event was held on at 11am on the 28th of February, 50 years to the minute since Pip’s death, and the event culminated with the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the Buchan South Avenue of Honour by Stephen Richter, Pip’s brother. Our CEO Geoff Evans spoke at the service, and there was a large attendance from members of the community, proof that the memory of Pip Richter’s sacrifice remains strong in the area.
While the current COVID-19 situation has meant that TRA has had to suspend operations in the Buchan Valley, we’re ready to return to the area to complete our work and continue to assist the community with their recovery as soon as it is safe to do so.