Farmers devastated by loss of livestock and livelihoods in Victorian bushfires

“I came home and I saw that I’d lost a few of my mates, my mates are my cows,” he said.

“That’s been my life, that’s what I’ve worked for and it’s very, very hard to take.”

The dairy farmer from Garvoc said he spent more time with his cows than his family.

“I milk them twice a day, I handle them every day, I grow them as calves, I grow them as heifers and to see them disappear, it’s hard to take.”

Thousands of livestock died in the St Patrick’s Day bushfires.
(ABC Rural: Jess Davis)

Power assets have been confirmed as the cause of all four fires in south-west Victoria last weekend.

The blaze that killed Mr Porter’s cows started when a power pole snapped on the property next door, owned by Jack Kenna.

Mr Kenna said it’s hard for city people to understand what the damage means for farmers.

“It just exploded and as you further go down it’s just carnage, it’s hell on earth,” he said.

“It’s hard to explain the magnitude of what’s happened without coming to see it.”

Livestock deaths rising

Peat fires in south-west Victoria are expected to continue burning for weeks.
(ABC Rural: Jess Davis)

The number of dead livestock counted so far is more than 4,000 and that number is expected to rise.

Agriculture Victoria Incident Controller Banjo Patterson said his field officers were usually the first to arrive at affected farms.

“There are certainly a lot of distressed people, it has hit a lot of people very hard,” he said.

“Our role is very much to refer where we identify urgent personal needs to the relevant agencies who are trained to deal with that situation.”

The last straw

Camperdown dairy farmer Willie Hawker worked all night in his tractor to stop the fire and save his house and dairy.

“With the discing that I did and the fire brigade, we stopped it from burning any of my buildings, hay and stopped it in its tracks and it didn’t go any further.”

Mr Hawker’s neighbours and friends have hailed him as a hero.

“There are rumours about that I’m supposed to be some sort of hero, but I’m not. I just did what I had to do to stop the fire.”

Dairy farmers are already under a lot of financial strain and Mr Hawker said the losses from the fires would break farmers without adequate insurance.

“No dairy farmer has really got cash reserves, they’ve got a lot of creditors — just like myself and it could be the last straw for some farmers.”

Recovery underway

CFA volunteers from Gazette said they hadn’t gotten any rest since last Saturday night, with the fear of breakaway fires continuing.

One of the volunteers, Geoff, said they’d been excavating, knocking down dead trees and digging holes to bury dead stock.

“The community’s come together remarkably well, it’s actually pulled people out of the woodwork,” he said.

“We’ve talked to a lot of people, you can’t do everything but you can talk to people.”

Hundreds of kilometres of fencing needs to be replaced and the support organisation Blazeaid is already out in the field.

Local volunteer Peter Bignell said it was a task that could take up to two months.

“This property alone could take a week, maybe two. It’s a big area and it’s a lot of farmland.”

For dairy farmer Brad Porter the community support has been overwhelming.

“The generosity that’s been shown and the offerings made and even if it’s just a phone call, I feel so indebted to the community.”

By: Jess Davis

Source: ABC Rural


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