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Community & Business

28 December, 2022

Graham hangs his helmet

After 32 years of dedicated service, Graham Bunyan, Gilgandra operations support officer Rural Fire Service (RFS), has officially retired.

By Emily Middleton

“I originally joined as a volunteer at CFS (country fire service) because I was in a small village in Adelaide Hills, and I knew no one,” said Mr Bunyan.

“There was no local pub or anything to go to. I was getting fuel one day and the captain who was down at the service station asked me what I was doing, whether I had a truck license, and stupidly enough I said yes. The next Monday night I was dressed in yellow overalls driving a fire truck and I thought, this is pretty cool!”

Mr Bunyan has been the backbone of Gilgandra RFS volunteers for 10 years. Firstly as a temporary, Mr Bunyan was made permanent two years later and he couldn’t be prouder of the work that’s been achieved.

“I’ve seen this zone evolve, the equipment's become much newer and easier, the staff have improved, systems have improved, it’s all new people,” said Mr Bunyan.

“I’m the last man standing is it were, and I think the zone is in great hands. Now the job's finished, I really came in to help stabilise and wait until things improved. Things have considerably improved, way beyond what I expected. So now it's time to move on.”

Seeing people improve beyond their expectations is something Mr Bunyan will forever cherish.

“Watching people come out and being very insure about themselves, to becoming quite self-determined and self-reliant. That always amazes me.”

However, the most significant thing Mr Bunyan learnt in his decades of experience, is realising how hard the staff and volunteers work, and how dedicated each of them are.

“Technically, I'm a public servant. I'm a member of the Public Service Association. But the real public servants are out there wearing blue and yellow, and working their guts out. Sometimes during summer, and even training and training hard. My job, my service, has been to the volunteers. Without them this organisation is nothing.”

But working in country towns mean you see the worst of the worst happen to your neighbours. When there’s an accident, you hope it's no one you know. When there’s bushfires, you hope your loved ones aren’t affected.

“We’ve had fires where 100 homes have been lost. A very treasured colleague of mine who unfortunately passed away last week, he'd been out there fighting fires and helping his neighbours, but his own home was lost. And then in the Sir Ivan fires, the same thing happened to one of our captains,” said Mr Bunyan.

“And the first I knew about it was when I said, mate there’s nothing more you can do today, go home, get some rest, there’s going be a lot of work to do tomorrow. And he said, yeah, I suppose I better see if I can find some mates for a place to sleep. So I asked why’s that and he said he lost his house.

“If somebody walked in the door, hit me right between the eyes with a sledgehammer, I think I would have recovered quicker.

“Just realising everything we fought for, and one of those houses we lost, and wasn't the only one, we had people out fighting fires come home, their houses are ruined. That was upsetting.” Balancing mental health and looking after yourself is one of the many pieces of advice Mr Bunyan will be passing onto his successor.

“You do sit back and question yourself, what could have I done. The answer is usually nothing,” said Mr Bunyan.

“But you need to remember that we do have victories. So although those two fires were terrible, and we lost 100 houses, and people had tremendous losses and stock losses, not one life at all. And that's important.”

Kevin Farraway is the new operations support officer for Gilgandra RFS.

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