Making the grade

Sapper Matthias Beddie grades a road on a property in Banks, Australian Capital Territory, during Operation Bushfire Assist. Photo: Signaller Robert Whitmore

Making the grade

Dirt roads graded by Army combat engineers don’t just provide access, they can also act as fire breaks.

“It’s only a matter of time before the wind would blow a fire over, but this should hold it up,” said plant operator Sapper Matthias Beddie.

“It might slow it for half an hour for the firies to get here and ahead of it. We’re taking the roads back to bare earth so there’s nothing on them to burn.”

Sapper Beddie and his fellow plant operators have been re-cutting dirt roads that will also allow better access to the gullies and hills south of Canberra.

“Before, they were pretty much just rocky goat tracks. We’ve cleared them up so water tankers can get through if a fire hits,” he said

While behind a grader’s controls, Sapper Beddie has to stay aware of the cutting blade’s level.

“Out in a paddock it’s not flat anywhere; you’ve got to keep an eye on the tow and heel of the blade,” he said.

“You try and move with the lay of the land but keep it level and make the depth of the cut the same.

“You’re trying to match the existing path, smoothing the top of the earth.”

Sapper Beddie’s grader can make roads from scratch, clear landing pads and scrapes, but he need to keep the blade away from big rocks to avoid damage.

“It’s got plenty of power. We’ll also use it to pull our equipment and vehicles out of bogs,” Sapper Beddie said.

The grader has proved a hit with children as Sapper Beddie’s plant detachment moves around southern NSW during Operation Bushfire Assist.

“When I was a kid I didn’t expect to see plant equipment in the military, I just thought it was all guns,” he said.

“Anything out of the ordinary that’s camouflaged, kids want to jump all over it.

“We’ll often let kids sit in there and get a feel for it. There’s a steady flow whenever we pull up somewhere.”

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