The Adelong BlazeAid camp has officially closed down, drawing to a close after logging nearly 17,500 volunteer days.
Keeping those volunteers fuelled, a group of cooks, bakers and kitchen hands have served over 40,200 meals since the camp opened in January 2020.
Local volunteer Robyn Reakes described her time supporting the camp as ‘a labour of love’, starting with serving breakfasts and helping wherever it was needed.
“It was beautiful,” Mrs Reakes said, “I really enjoyed it and met some beautiful people.”
Mrs Reakes applauded the work of camp coordinator Steve Matthews, saying he’d done “just the most amazing job.”
“His workload has been incredible. To be able to support that alone [was wonderful],” she said.
Mrs Reakes joined the camp in July 2020, after it reopened from a brief Covid closure. Since then, she’s spent an average of five days a week helping to cook and tidy up for the fence-building volunteers. While most of those volunteers say the highlight of their time was meeting local farmers or seeing the beautiful countryside, Mrs Reakes said she never left camp, but made plenty of friends and enjoyed being part of the bushfire rebuild.
“It was such a privilege to be a part of the team,” she said.
“I heard a few of the stories and would’ve really loved to have gone out and met the farmers and had that experience, but [I appreciated] just knowing that we were doing a great job and being a support for those people that must have went through something horrific.”
During the 2019/20 Dunns Road fire, Mrs Reakes was in Tumut, surrounded by the smoke and falling ash, concerned for her sons who had property which faced threats from the fire.
She said her personal experience of the fire was “the initial fear of it coming”, and felt compelled to help after the blaze had passed.
“That’s our nature as human beings to want to help,” she said.
“I would have been out at BlazeAid earlier but there was [Covid] and then they opened it up again, and that’s when I jumped.”
Asked if she’d travel to other camps to help out in the future, she replied, “I absolutely would love to. I’d be quite happy to be the support in any of the places.”
Proof that disaster can draw people together – and back to their roots – Mrs Reakes said she got a shock early in her time as a volunteer when she accidentally met her second cousin, who was one of the cooks in charge of the camp kitchen.
“She’d come all the way from Queensland,” said Mrs Reakes. “I didn’t have a clue [we were related]. She was preparing to leave and if I hadn’t went when I went, I wouldn’t have got to meet her and spend a bit of time with her.”
The two women were chatting during a quiet moment and discovered they both had connections to Argalong, then realised the family connections went further.
“The next minute, it turned out her father and my father were cousins, so we were second cousins. It was beautiful,” she said.
The closure of the camp has brought mixed feelings for many of the local volunteers, coming when many need to spend more time with their families or at home.
“I’m a bit sad,” said Mrs Reakes, “But because of Covid the last little while, I haven’t been able to be fully involved.
“I fully understand that it has to move on at this stage.”