A Lucas Mill has started the blade rolling for local bushfire-ravaged farmers as they turn burnt trees into timber for practical purposes.
In Charlie Kennedy’s estimation, it took just eight minutes for the 2019-20 Black Summer Bushfires to annihilate everything in its path at his family farm.
“We saved our house and our son’s house,” Charlie said.
“We lost sheep, cattle, stockyards and two haysheds in that time.
“Afterwards we buried a lot of cattle that didn’t have a mark on them. They died because the air was just that hot.”
Charlie points to a section of bush where he says the local CFA members burnt 18 months prior to the fires.
“The fire went in there maybe 30 metres and went out,” he said.
He then points in the other direction at trees that have burnt canopies.
“Those ones were at the whim of the flames.”
Fifteen months later, after a lot of help from Blazeaid volunteers and others, the Kennedy’s boundary fences are back up but the yards remain in need of timber.
The East Gippsland Timber Milling Project has proved a saviour in many ways, thanks to the original idea from Sarsfield farmer and nurse, Ingrid Biram.
Ingrid’s husband Mark didn’t have a job to go back to after he stayed home to defend their property and then COVID.
“When we were burnt out my husband was walking around just not knowing where to start,” Ingrid said.
“A good friend of ours, Bill Higgins, offered us a Lucas Mill, trained Mark how to use it and we put it to use for about 12 months.
“Something just clicked for Mark and he got busy.
“Now we have enough fence posts and cattle railing and timber to fix everything including the chook house.”
Rather than watch the timber go to waste on the ground, Ingrid said putting the burnt trees to use was sustainable.
“It’s all about being productive. “There is so much timber out there and it definitely helps with mental health.
“Mental health is quite taboo to talk about for farmers, they just get on with it because they have to.
“Our farmers are the most resilient people we have in Australia and we need to learn from them.”
Ingrid is passionate about the project and canvassed for help from local bodies.
“Rotary was on board in two weeks with the East Gippsland Rotary Fire Aid purchasing a mill, and then Lions International has donated a trailer and a vehicle kitted out to tow the mill,” she said.
“The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning has also provided $230,000.
“No money will get to farmers unless we do this,” she said.
“It’s farmer working alongside farmer. If they want to talk about their mental health issues they can.
“Mark’s been through it. I’m a nurse and our son Jarrod works for Ambulance Victoria.
“We can also point people to where help is.
“This project is the key to help farmers rebuild.”
“This sawmill business has really done a lot for us, it’s really given us a good lift.
“I can’t speak highly enough of it and other people around, even further afield, will benefit from Ingrid’s idea,” Charlie said.
“We haven’t had much income, we lost a lot of sheep and our son Danny and his wife Sarah lost cows.
“It took us 12 months to get our boundary fences finished.
“This is really high-quality timber, it’s been a great thing, there’ll be a bit of timber used for panels.”
And it turns out the project is having an even further-reaching effect, with replica programs about to start up in Queensland and New South Wales.
“This project ticks all the boxes,” Ingrid said.
“Environmentally it makes sense – the whole project makes sense.”
She said she had found insurance companies would not insure treated pine fencing but would insure hardwood, giving the project another tick.
“We had our home insured but they haggled with us over our-ride on lawn mower for six months.
“They don’t care, we’re just a number on a list, unfortunately we are on our own.”
Ingrid said affected farmers could put their names down with Neil Smith at the Recovery Hub and the Birams will bring the mill to them and cut their timber.
IMAGE: Post bushfire work: Glenn Schaeche, Jarrod Biram, Mark Biram and Charlie Kennedy, working on cutting red box posts for the Kennedy’s stockyards, as part of the East Gippsland Timber Milling Project. INSET: Ingrid Biram. K105-4548