After six weeks wedged between the Tumut Hockey Fields and Basketball Stadium, the Army’s orderly row of forest green tents will be disappearing over the next two weeks, with a “draw down” in progress this week.
“The hierarchy have identified that we’ve completed all of our key response and relief efforts in the immediate aftermath of the fire, which is what we were brought in to assist with,” said the Officer Commanding (OC) Liam Knowles, who has been overseeing the unit in Tumut since they arrived on January 10.
Major Knowles’ unit was tasked with assisting the Snowy Valleys LGA with “clearing roads, restoring vital services and infrastructure and other key tasks that came up.”
The Army’s road-clearing operations mostly involved burned or fallen trees and not the removal of wildlife or livestock. That job fell to state government agencies.
Maj Knowles said his unit’s tasks have been completed and most of the troops staying in Tumut will be sent back to Brisbane to get back to their usual training and operations.
A contingent of Australian Defense Force personnel will remain in Canberra, on call for any additional bushfire-related issues in the Snowy Valleys. The rest will travel back to Queensland, with the last truck expected to leave Tumut by the end of next week.
Major Knowles said there were no significant complications in sharing the Tumut Basketball Stadium with local players.
“We were pretty lucky in that they were out of season,” said Maj Knowles, “There weren’t any games on. They had a couple of coaching clinic days, so we just moved our things out, but they could pretty easily gain access back into the stadium.
“We had a few nights where the locals would come down and have a game with some of the Army guys. I think they enjoyed that.”
One of the main focuses for the unit was on “engaging with the community” and Maj Knowles said sport was one of the best ways they were able to connect with locals outside of the difficult task of hands-on manual labour.
Along with basketball, soldiers played cricket against teams in Tumbarumba, Batlow and Tumut.
“It was a mixed result,” said Maj Knowles. “I think Batlow and Tumbarumba ended up beating us.
“We got up against Tumut.”
The Tumut cricket game was held as a fundraiser, bringing in $3,000 for the Rural Fire Service.
“That was a really good result,” commented Major Knowles.
For many of the soldiers in Maj Knowles’ unit, the work in the Snowy Valleys was their first deployment, giving them a chance to practice their skills and build confidence at home before taking those skills overseas.
“The guys have really enjoyed it. The communities were very hospitable,” said Maj Knowles, adding that this was a unique operation for both him and the troops.
“I’ve certainly never seen a domestic deployment of this scale in my 12 years.
“A lot of [the soldiers] will take away good memories, and there are some lessons they can take away into all the theatres that we work in.
“Currently the ADF is having a push into the southwest Pacific, a lot of international engagement where we work with those local nations and try to build up their capacity, so it’s a similar role, in a different country.”
‘Key Achievements’ of the 2nd Combat Engineer Squadron in the Snowy Valleys
– 116 separate tasks completed
– Supported the DPI and SVC in distribution 303 tonnes of fodder and 115,00L of non-potable water for farmers
– Conducted 83kms of road clearance, supporting the RMS and SVC
– Cleared 74km of fence lines, removing trees and debris to allow farmers to re-establish stock fences
– Felled over 685 fire-damaged trees to protect roads, fences and other structures from further damage
– Completed 12km of fire break in the Bondo State Forest