When 20 women received the news they had secured a spot in the highly sought after Safer Together funded Women’s Chainsaw Course, they were all excited and apprehensive.
The women chosen were all from very high fire risk properties and demonstrated in their applications that they would benefit enormously from the opportunity.
In addition to the chainsaw training, the women also learned about broader emergency preparedness.
The program, managed by the Macedon Ranges Shire, was supported by CFA and Neighbourhood houses in the region. This collaborative team ensured the course was packed with content and new skills, and was innovative in its design – despite being a logistical challenge as the program was delivered to two groups of ten women, each over seven days using multiple venues.
Not only did the eager participants master the art of ‘trim and cross cut’, but they also soaked up new knowledge about fire behaviour, fuel management, Phoenix Rapidfire computer modelling, property planning, community connections, playing the Fire Game, and better understanding disaster recovery. New skills were practised, including rakehoeing and tool maintenance, generator and pump operation, truckie knots and ratchet straps and much more.
Childcare was provided to ensure some could attend, and a community bus was used to ferry grateful passengers. One of the highlights for many was a visit to a fire-impacted property in Benloch, where the owners gave their own personal perspectives on several fires in the area, and what they and their community had learned as a result. Seeing with their own eyes the impacts of the fire as well as hearing about them whilst onsite was certainly powerful and thought provoking, and put into perspective all the discussions and knowledge the women had gathered so far.
During the final weekend, the participants honed their chainsaw skills by carving sculptures. This was a great time for reflection, celebration and an opportunity to plan future connections. Since that final weekend, the first ten have had a celebratory dinner, set up a Whatsapp group and a closed Facebook group, where they have been sharing knowledge and planning future gatherings (including more chainsaw practice, carving for fundraising for their communities, and supporting each other in many different ways).
The group was asked to write an evaluation of their time on the course, and the final paragraph summed it up perfectly.
“As we sit on our newly-crafted seats, we wonder what will we learn next? Whatever it is we know that we have the full support of our newly formed women’s chainsaw group… No one can know it all, and we will always be surprised; we now expect to be surprised, and to learn along the way.”
Special thanks to Benloch and Hesket Kerrie brigades, the Romsey Neighbourhood House and the Freeemasons Romsey for the use of their facilities, and to the many people who shared their stories and skills. Also, congratulations to the 20 women who successfully completed the whole seven days of each program.