Australian dairy farmer’s father and brother were killed in the bushfire, but his daily chores could not be ignored

Australian Army assist farmer bushfire
Australian Army officer Lieutenant Aiden Frost with dairy farmer Tim Salway and his wife Leanne. Photo: Sergeant Max Bree

Tim Salway’s father, Robert, and brother, Patrick, died trying to defend their properties in a New South Wales bushfire, but Tim’s daily chores at the dairy farm could not be ignored.

The article below was written by Sergeant Max Bree of the Australian Army, January 20, 2020.


A raging inferno killed Tim Salway’s brother and father when bushfires tore through the family dairy farm near Cobargo, NSW, on New Year’s Eve.

As Mr Salway returned to their ravaged 600-acre property, milking came first.

“I knew my old man and brother were lying there just over the hill, but we had to get the cows in,” Mr Salway said.

“You can’t afford to miss because they start getting udder issues.

“That was the hardest milking I’ve ever had to do, but you couldn’t just stop and say ‘that was a bad fire’.”

About 170 of the Salways’ 350 cows were lost in the blaze.

Help arrived in the fires’ wake, including an Army strike team to clear and pile up fallen trees from the paddocks, saving the family an estimated month’s work.

“They ripped in with chainsaws, they smashed through, their bosses kept asking me ‘what next?’,” Mr Salway said.

“We’re able to get back in these paddocks, we’re able to work the land again. In time we’ll be able to burn these heaps [of wood].

“They cleared our driveway and just driving in makes you feel better. Things like this keep you going, as tough as it is for our family.”

Lieutenant Aiden Frost, of the 2nd/17th Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, commanded the strike team that arrived for two days of work on January 14.

They also brought water and an Army chaplain to counsel the Salways.

“The intensity of the fire basically ripped all of the trees out of the ground and created huge amounts of debris which rendered the paddocks sort of unusable,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“The farmers have been overwhelmed. We can’t solve the whole problem, but in a couple of days our guys have been able to clear significant amounts of the property, which will eventually allow their cattle numbers to recover.”

Strike teams, such as those commanded by Lieutenant Frost, are working to assist communities in south-east NSW in the wake of the bushfires.

His team has 26 soldiers from Army’s 5th Brigade, mostly infantrymen and combat engineers supported by a medic and signaller.

Four of the infantrymen completed an Army chainsaw course while the team was staging at Holsworthy.

“One minute we’re helping fix fences to stop cattle getting on the road and the next minute we’re out doing engineer tasks like inspecting culverts and bridges, or felling and cutting up trees” Lieutenant Frost said.

“Even if it is just basic, manual labour, the team is really glad to be able to help.”

The Salways’ farm provides milk to Bega Cheese, the same company that makes canned cheese for Australian Army ration packs.

The company couldn’t process the Salways’ milk for 10 days after the fires, meaning it had to be dumped, but Bega Cheese still paid for it. The company also provided the family with generators, to keep things running until power was restored.

“We take for granted where everything comes from,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“Guys like these farmers provide milk to make cheese for ration packs or the supermarket; everyone knows the struggles they’ve had.

“Then to have a fire devastate your farm and lose family members is the last thing any of these people needed. At least we can show that the people of Australia and the Army cares about them.”

When the team finished at the Salways’ property, Tim’s family had worked for 15 days straight to recover, with no end in sight.

“It wasn’t a fire, it was a monster, like a tornado; it’s something I don’t want to see again,” he said.

“The family down the road lost five houses. Up the road, out of about seven houses, there’s only one left.

“I’ve been trying to say it’s not that bad, but when the Army turns up to help you it must be pretty bad.”

Firefighters in Victoria — photos

Images from the front lines of Australia’s bushfires

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, @DELWP_Vic

Until two to three weeks ago most of the bushfire activity in Australia was concentrated in New South Wales, but in January firefighters further south in Victoria became increasingly busy.

Most of these photos (except as noted) were posted on the Twitter account of Chris Hardman, the Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria.

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
military bushfires helicopter rappell
Posted by Defence Australia, @DeptDefence, December, 2019. (It is not clear in which state this photo was taken, New South Wales or Victoria)

One thing to keep in mind is that when wildland firefighters are actively working to contain a fire they usually do not have time to pull out a camera or smart phone and take pictures. So most of what you see from the front lines are from when they are taking a well-deserved break.

About the next three photos, Chief Hardman wrote:

Driving greater female participation in fire fighting and fire mgt, has paid off, our women are Sector Commanders, Div Coms, Crew Leaders, General FIre Fighters, Dozer Operators, Fallers, IMTs and Air Ops. They are an inspiration to others.

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. pose with Victorian firefighters. Posted on Twitter by Robert Garcia, Fire Chief for the Angeles National Forest, @firechiefanf
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. working in Victoria. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. pose with Victorian firefighters. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters attend a procession to honor their fallen comrade Mat Kavanagh, 43, who died on duty January 3 in a two vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway in Victoria. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, @DELWP_Vic

Residents suffer through smoky air in Victoria, Australia

On Wednesday some Air Quality Index readings were in the Very Unhealthy category or worse

Air quality in Victoria, Australia
Air quality in Victoria, Australia January 15, 2020. Air-Quality.com

Smoke from bushfires in Victoria, Australia has degraded the air quality to levels that are dangerous in some areas.

If the Air Quality Index used by Air-Quality.com for the map above is the same used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality in the east corner of Victoria near Mallacoota is off the scale, beyond “hazardous”, with an air quality index of 769 at one location.

Mallacoota is the community that had to be evacuated by Navy ships after fires trapped over 4,000 residents and holiday makers.

In the Melbourne area (the cluster of AQI readings in the lower-left corner) the map shows some levels above 200 which is the beginning of the Very Unhealthy for Everyone category; 300 to 500 is Hazardous, and over 500 must be a ridiculous category that the US EPA assumed would never occur. (see the chart below)

Air Quality Index
Air Quality Index, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

From NPR, January 14, 2020:

Smoke from massive wildfires in Australia hangs like a blanket over the city of Melbourne. The smog there is so thick that some of the world’s top athletes have raised alarms about player safety at the Australian Open tennis tournament, slated to kick off next week.

The air quality in Melbourne on Wednesday was forecast to be “very poor to hazardous,” according to the Environment Protection Authority in Victoria state.

The hazardous breathing conditions prompted Australian Open officials to suspend practice sessions Tuesday. But qualifying matches went on as scheduled, and one of the players later said it was “not fair” that they were asked to compete.

That player, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, was leading 6-4, 5-6 in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she was overtaken by a fit of coughing and dropped to her knees. Her breathing difficulties forced her to forfeit, handing the victory to Voegele.

Smoke from the bushfires in Australia has traveled completely around the Earth and will be over the continent again in the coming days. But it may not be visible to the naked eye.

Secret firefighting mission saves famous ‘dinosaur trees’ in Australia

Only 200 Wollemi Pines are left in the grove that was discovered 26 years ago

Wollemi Pine saved fire
A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighter amid some of the Wollemi pines he helped save. Photo: NPWS.

Firefighters rappelled into a secret location to try to save the remaining Wollemi Pines from burning in the huge Gospers Mountain Fire in New South Wales, Australia. After it started from lightning on October 26, the fire burned 512,000 hectares (1,265,000 acres) before it was contained a few days ago. With only 200 of the trees left the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Rural Fire Service attempt to keep the location a secret.

Below are excerpts from an article at the Sydney Morning Herald:

Contamination from pathogens brought in by visitors could devastate the remaining populations.

“When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur,”[NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt] Kean said.

Cris Brack, an associate professor at the Australian National University, said fossil evidence indicates that the trees existed between 200 and 100 million years ago and were once present across the whole of Australia.

“I knew the [grove] was exceedingly threatened by the fires,” he said.

Aging the current crop is difficult because they may be cloned from only a few trees or even a single individual. As such, the plants could be as old as 100,000 years, Professor Brack said.

The firefighters set up a sprinkler system to keep the ground fuels wet while air tankers and helicopters dropped water and retardant to keep the fire from spreading into the very hard to access grove of trees.

One population of a couple of trees burned, but the remaining 200 made it.

Researchers say the pines have survived fires in the past but the blazes this summer have been abnormally hot and large. Since they were discovered 26 years ago the trees have been propagated by nurseries in Australia and abroad.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.