Top End troops go south to lend a hand

Former beekeeper, Trooper Daniel Byford, of the 1st Armoured Regiment, checks hives damaged on Kangaroo Island's Hanson Wildlife Sanctuary. Photo: Corporal Tristan Kennedy

Top End troops go south to lend a hand

Almost 500 1st Brigade soldiers have deployed to support bushfire-affected communities in the south-east of the country.

The Darwin and Adelaide-based soldiers have flown in to support local authorities, volunteer agencies and the 6500 ADF personnel contributing to the effort.

Commander of the 1st Brigade, Brigadier Ash Collingburn, said there was no shortage of willing bodies within the brigade ready to support when the call out was received.

“As Army’s high-readiness combat brigade we maintain personnel over the Christmas leave period on high readiness to assist in the event of these types of short-notice emergencies,” Brigadier Collingburn said.

“While we had people on standby ready to go when the call came, I had soldiers calling in asking to be recalled from leave so that they could join the effort.  

“Like all Australians, our people have been watching this crisis unfold as it has been reported in the media and they have been shocked and deeply moved by the devastation caused.” 

1st Brigade soldiers and officers have been integrated into each of the three separate Joint Task Forces and are working alongside state fire authorities and other Government agencies like Australian Aid and the Red Cross.

The 1st Brigade contingent includes infantry soldiers, medical technicians, logistics specialists and engineers who provided immediate response while additional Reserve forces continue to mobilise as authorised by the Governor-General.

Infantryman Private Joshua Coleman, from Adelaide’s 7th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (7 RAR), witnessed the devastation to the bushland from the window of a Singaporean Chinook helicopter. 

“We flew out to Combienbar and as I looked out the window it was an eerie juxtaposition between the very green lively coast and black dead forests,” Private Coleman said.

Despite the visual devastation, another 7 RAR soldier, Corporal Todd Madden, said that he was impressed by the Australian fighting spirit amid the crisis.

“There was a willingness from these men and women [residents affected by fire] to not only continue to persevere in the face of remarkable adversity but an insistence to help those worse off than others,” Corporal Madden said.

While the majority of the soldiers have been working to deliver essential supplies to townships and aid in recovery efforts, others are assisting with caring and rehabilitating native animals whose habitat has been affected.

Along with kangaroos and koalas, around 800 beehives have been destroyed by fire on Kangaroo Island. 

Trooper Daniel Byford who is on the Island with the 1st Armoured Regiment, unexpectedly called upon his previous beekeeping skills to help save the local Ligurian Bee. 

Sappers from the Top End’s 1st Combat Engineer Regiment are using their more traditional skills and equipment to clear roads of felled trees to reopen routes, including the first emergency access road in and out of the coastal town of Mallacoota in Victoria.

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