BlazeAid Heroes Betrayed

Out of the ashes of Black Saturday 2009 came an urgent need for fences to be rebuilt. Kilmore East farmers, Kevin and Rhonda Butler, were among those whose fences were burnt. Needing to quickly secure their 1,500 sheep, they sought assistance from family, friends and local volunteers to help rebuild their fences. Within a week, the fences were completed – a task that would have taken them months to do on their own. Grateful for the assistance they received, Rhonda and Kevin decided to try to help a few others with their fencing.

Thus, BlazeAid was born.  Thanks to them, thousands of long- and short-term BlazeAid volunteers have come to help rebuild fences for the victims of bushfires and floods. My son M spent a month in Charlton earlier this year, doing just that. By lending a hand in true Aussie style, BlazeAid volunteers not only built fences, but helped to restore the spirits of those who’d suffered through a series of Australia’s worst natural disasters. The leadership, courage and self-sacrifice Kevin and Rhonda showed in setting up and coordinating Blaze Aid has earned them a Rotary International Award and Victorian Local Hero Award.

Now Rhonda and Kevin need our help. BlazeAid has been put on hold, and Kevin has resigned from his position as President. This is because he and his neighbours are facing the loss of their own homes and farms. Not to fire or flood, but to a heartless Liberal State Government. It has broken its 2010 election promise to build the bypass of Kilmore township from the north. It has chosen an eastern bypass instead, with a 75% chance of  bulldozing Kevin’s family home of 35 years, as well as the woolshed where BlazeAid began after the Black Saturday fires. His neighbours are under a 100% threat. Kevin wrote in a December 5th press release “… it is tantamount to a death sentence … since the announcement several weeks ago, my health continues to deteriorate. Being in survival mode, I am having difficulty with eating and sleeping.”

Kevin goes on to say ” … the VicRoads compensation package is entirely unsatisfactory and my unbroken family links here go back to 1872. Unfortunately, I cannot run my business and devote myself to the huge undertaking of coordinating BlazeAid, as well as spending hours each day trying to save my home as I try to lobby and negotiate with VicRoads and the State Government.

I have also requested to my editor at the Weekly Times, Natalie Ward, to place on hold for 12 months my monthly column “On the Farm” which I receive considerable remuneration for.

I remain passionate about the work of BlazeAid. After Black Saturday in 2009 and 2011’s Cyclone Yasi (Tully) and Big Australian floods (Bridgewater, Charlton, Tenterfield, Murgon, Stanthorpe, Toowoomba, Warwick, the Gascoyne region), seven thousand Australian and overseas BlazeAid volunteers worked with nine hundred home owners to rebuild their fencing and get back on track with their homes and farms. BlazeAid volunteers contributed a massive 35,000 working days and millions of dollars worth of fencing assistance.

Sadly, it is inevitable that Australia will have another natural disaster and a community rebuilding effort will be needed … Meanwhile, my intention is to have the time and energy to fight – alongside my neighbours – the taking of our homes and farms. I regret that – until the threat to my family and neighbours of losing our homes and properties is removed, and I can again concentrate on what I love doing – I must forego my position with BlazeAid.

I deeply apologise to the people of Victoria and the rest of Australia for this untenable position”

No Kevin. It is us who should apologise to you. I for one, will be emailing Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu on your behalf. I hope many others follow suit. My deepest thanks to you and Rhonda on behalf of all Australians.


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