Trial By Fire

ABC • 2003

Trial by Fire follows the Macedon Group of volunteer fire brigades as they struggle to deal with Australia’s worst bushfire season for over twenty years.

Trial by Fire follows the Macedon Group of volunteer fire brigades as they struggle to deal with Australia’s worst bushfire season for over twenty years. The Macedon Group is responsible for the towns of Woodend, Gisborne and Macedon, and the twenty thousand people who live there as well as the two hundred square kilometres of small farms, rural hamlets and dry eucalypt forest which surround them.

The Brigades are entirely voluntary and before the fire season starts they have to train their new members, run raffles to raise money for fire-fighting equipment and try to educate the new settlers from the city.

Andrew Wilson-Annan has only recently arrived from Scotland and he signs up with the Woodend brigade at a community education meeting. His wife Julie, who is four months pregnant, has to face the critical decision faced by all country people, to stay or go if a fire comes their way.

Nicole Healy runs the training sessions which Andrew has signed up for. Nicole is only twenty and comes from a firefighting family. She is one of the first to volunteer when lightening strikes start massive fires in the north east of the state.

Co-ordinating the Macedon Group volunteers is the job of Tony Wade. Tony has given up his truck driving job for the summer so that he can concentrate on his work for the CFA. It’s a good thing he did because he’s kept very busy trying to stitch together a crew of four every other day.

With about a quarter of the group up in the North East the twenty fifth of January was a big day. The temperature reached 44 degrees by ten o’clock in the morning and the wind was gusting to twenty knots from the north. All that was needed was the smallest spark and the Melbourne to Bendigo train provided it. Two fires started on the railway line near Gisborne as the morning train passed through. Within minutes they were tearing across the grassland toward houses just north of the town. Minutes later three more fires started near Woodend. Because it was a total fire ban day the Macedon group crews were all standing by and they were able to stop the fires before they got out of control. As they say in the business it was a good save.

The North east fires took eight weeks to control and burnt over a million hectares of bush and farmland. The Macedon Group like all the brigades in Victoria played their part in saving many communities and towns along the way.

Trial by Fire provides an insight into the workings of Australia’s volunteer fire fighting brigades. It captures the humour, the adrenalin and the comraderie that makes Australia’s country fire services unique.

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