Congratulations to Ashley and Scarlet Porter on the wonderful achievements of their home bred Vanoca Park Ladysmith at the International Welsh Show in Sydney last weekend. Ladysmith swept all before him to take the ultimate title of International Best Welsh Exhibit of the Show. Beautifully shown by Scarlet, Ladysmith took Championship after Championship.
We were so proud to be ringside and share in the excitement because Ladysmith is by Llanfairbryn Goldrush (Glynyarra Park Doulton x Llanfairbryn Foxy by Coed Coch Bedwyn (Imp)). Ladysmith’s dam Nattai Dark Lady stood Runner Up Supreme Champion Welsh Mountain Pony to her son, a feat we have never seen before. So ringside there were proud ‘grand parents’ from Llanfairbryn and Nattai and a proud ‘great grandparent’ from Glynyarra.
A truly mighty effort by Vanoca Park Ladysmith and the Porter family.
Congratulations and a heartfelt thank you to all those who made this truly International Welsh Show the massive success it was, particularly our COM and International Show Chairperson Michele Baker and COM member and International Show Secretary Kym Shingleton - it will be talked about in Australia and abroad for a long time to come. You did our country and Society proud. What a celebration as an important part of our Society’s 50th Year.
In January our gorgeous homegrown Fantastic Mr Fox won Supreme of Show at the Gippsland RPG Youngstock Show @ Berwick winning a bronze society medal, which was a thrill.
TONIMBUK FIRES, Victoria, March 2019
14,500 hectares – 29 homes lost - 270 properties affected.
The first day of Autumn 2019 dawned like any other, warm with a light wind and no indication of the hellish conditions and terror which were to follow. Late morning there were three dry-lightning strikes on the Black Snake Range opposite Llanfairbryn Stud in Tonimbuk where we, Adam and Katie Turnbull and Anthony and Suellen Deane, stood at a good vantage point on our farm with concerned neighbours watching helplessly as plumes of smoke rose, joined and sent flames and smoke into the air like an atomic bomb.
In inaccessible terrain in the Bunyip State Park the fire could not be reached from the ground and the helicopter which circled was not a water bomber. By evening the fire was well on its way towards us and our small community of Tonimbuk and neighbouring Bunyip North, Garfield North, Tynong North and Maryknoll and the whole sky took on an unearthly ominous glow.
Warnings were constant and Police were patrolling. For both our homes and stable blocks we had three fire pumps set up into our tanks and swimming pool and the sprinkler system all over our house was set to go.
As there is only one road in and out of Tonimbuk the Police told us that we should evacuate voluntarily at this stage. Sadly, many Australians are only too well aware of the anxiety and distress caused by evacuation for bush fires. I grabbed a few clothes for Alexander and Christian and took them to Adam’s mother at Devon Meadows before returning to the farm. Mum threw photo albums, prized possessions and family papers into the car, forgetting all about clothes, and went to friends in Garfield at the insistence of all the family who bluntly pointed out that she would be ‘of no use at all’.
As the fire grew larger and closer Police were setting up roadblocks at the intersection of the Tonimbuk Road and the Princes Highway, and there was a great CFA and emergency services presence. On Friday night in awful anticipation of what was coming Adam, dad and I decided to stay and defend the ponies and our adjoining properties, with Plan B being to drive straight into our lake . The following morning I insisted that dad also evacuate. Adam’s cousin arrived to help and together the three of us began hosing both houses and surrounds.
I put into action our plan to save the horses, having decided there was no way we could evacuate over 30 ponies even though there was frenetic activity in the district as neighbours panicked to get their livestock out. If one stayed, they all stayed. Plus with several in their 20s they just wouldn’t have coped with the move. I felt that our stallion Kingswood Snowman would be safest in the yard in front my house and that Arielen Maestro would be best left in his own paddock next to the house. Nattai Bedwyn was left in his own paddock for the time being.
All the mares, young-stock and two geldings were brought in to a paddock adjoining my house yard and the colts put in a small paddock in front of the house. Sensing the severity of the situation they were all very compliant thankfully.
In the Black Saturday fires of 2009 we separated the stallions then opened all the gates and drove the ponies down to the lake but they soon turned tail and took themselves back to their paddocks. Nowadays with helicopters using the lake as a prime filling station it is not a safe option. By putting the ponies next to the house we could reach them with the fire hoses.
From first light on Saturday the drumming of helicopters coming and going was constant.
By mid afternoon the fire had encircled the whole farm. We kept wetting down and patrolling on our Gators checking which way the fire was coming and what neighbouring properties were being impacted. As the fire loomed from the North several CFA vehicles arrived, drove into our paddocks then left after being called out. A crew member handed me a face-mask, shook my hand, wished us good luck and left. At this point we checked our sprinkler system and all our pumps.
We decided to move Bedwyn into our stables at this stage, as the fire was coming relentlessly towards us through Cherrytree Farm opposite. Our plan was to let Bedwyn out if the fire reached our stables. We moved him just before the fire roared up his paddock.
By 3 pm day turned to night and we watched a vortex form in adjoining bush as the fire consumed a tea tree gully, creating its own lightning. At this point spot fires started in the paddocks, exploding like hand grenades. The helicopters had long gone so we rang 000 and two came back, dropping loads in the paddock to slow the fire. Both helicopters were filling at once, which we have been told requires great skill and bravery. Adam’s cousin went home at this stage as his property in Bunyip was ember impacted.
All Saturday night the fires burned slowly completely encircling us then started to close in. One helicopter returned and filled until midnight using huge spotlights. We slept on and off, Adam on the front deck and me inside as the smoke was intense. The scene from our windows that night is something that will haunt us forever. The mountains were all lit up like images of hell, with flames twice as high as the trees. All through the night we watched neighbours houses, stables and sheds exploding and burning and later learnt that 29 homes and 67 major structures had been lost. All our immediate neighbours had evacuated and were ringing us frantically for news of their animals and properties having seen footage of homes burning on TV and we had to give them awful news.
Sunday mid morning the fire reached our homes and stable blocks. We worked frantically assessing which way it was coming from next. Three times mum’s bushman’s hut caught fire but thankfully its water tank was full and Adam was able to save it by throwing water with an old babies bath.
Then the fire started burning down to the back of our stables where we had no fire pump. We tried unsuccessfully to put it out with rakes but it kept reigniting. Adam grabbed his plumbing vehicle with its pressure jetter, cut up pipes, hooked it up to a tank and was able to jet spray 50 metres, holding the fire at bay.
By Sunday midday the fire came across the ménage and through the garden to mum and dad’s house. The flames were many meters high showering embers down the back of my neck. It took some time to get these flames under control, using the pump in the swimming pool, as they had got into the hedge of roses which was roaring. I stopped the fire just 5 metres from the house. At the same time Adam was stopping the fire from taking mum and dad’s stables and hay shed using the pump into their water tank. We melted the soles off our boots running between both houses and stable blocks.
When the fire came out of adjoining bush the previous afternoon it had burnt under our fences, however on Sunday morning when the second wave came through it completely wiped out the whole property - every fence, all our pasture, all our bush and most of our trees. Thank God we were able to stop the flames at the yards around our house so the ponies were safe and secure.
A major problem was that the helicopters’ flight path to the lake was over the top of the small paddock where we had the ponies next to our house. We estimate they filled over 300 times. The ponies ran and ran which was so stressful and heartbreaking to watch. I tried everything to stop them running by putting out lucerne and sitting with them, all the while hosing their paddock with the fire pump from our deck. We considered letting them free, however with the fences burning down in the bigger paddocks I couldn’t risk them going into the burning bush. I was sure that the four pregnant mares would slip their foals, but mercifully they didn’t. By evening we were nearing exhaustion. Experts say not to try and fight a fire unless you are fit. I agree with that.
By 7pm Sunday night, after thinking multiple times that the fire had finished, a fierce wind change came through blowing embers into the stables and hay sheds, showering all over the ponies. We ran between all buildings checking for new fires. When the drama subsided we went back to our house, opened bottles of cider and bourbon and watched as our remnant fences fell down and our bush continued to burn.
When Maestro’s fence fell down he just stayed put all night. All we could hear was explosions and trees coming down.
Injuries sustained were few. Snowman had colic (as he had been attempting to serve mares through the timber fence for 48hrs), a filly had cut her shoulder, the old shed cat had suffered smoke inhalation, had gone into renal failure and was dying. It was very surreal on Sunday night knowing we were trapped in here on our own. It felt rather like being in a movie, although we did have small survey helicopters overhead on Sunday and the pilots knew we were here. They would circle around until they found us then hang out the window and give us the thumbs up.
At one stage we walked down the Tonimbuk Road in the deadly silence of a smouldering burnt out community, feeling as if we were the last people on earth and were surrounded by thousands of frogs, crickets and insects of every kind.
Monday morning we woke early to the sound of bulldozers clearing the roads as they had been told we were still in here. Following the bulldozers were dad and mum who had managed to sneak back past the roadblocks and our fantastic Vet Dr Cam Hinkley (Essential Equine Vets) and his partner Narelle. Cam was amazing, he treated Snowman and the filly’s shoulder, changed a bandage for us and put the poor ancient shed cat to sleep. Horses, cattle and sheep were wandering the roads and standing in burnt out properties. Cam caught, treated and made safe all he found, including alpacas, for the following weeks at no charge.
With all roads blocked (in and out) for a week and with no power we were camping in our smoke and ash affected houses. We couldn’t get the ponies off the property so made temporary fences, giving us two small paddocks. Luckily I had just purchased a giant bale of lucerne and by some miracle our hay had survived. When road blocks came down we took most of the mares and young-stock to good friends in Nar Nar Goon South. Wonderful friends from our Society, Meredith Williams and Lissi Heffernan, came and took our two geldings home to Meredith’s.
We were all very touched and humbled by the concern, help and generosity of WP&CSofA members and the APSB and will always remember them with love and gratitude. The Lions’ Need for Feed, St Vincent de Paul, Blaze Aid, CFA, Red Cross and many other charitable organisations and individuals were also amazing. We were so overwhelmed by the destruction of our property that we did not know how or where to start and they gave us help and hope.
What have we learnt? Preparation is the key. The CFA told us afterwards that we were the best prepared property they had attended. We had kits of overalls, goggles, gloves and masks etc. We had fire fighting pumps and a great sprinkler system. It is imperative that you have plans. You must keep the undergrowth down around your homes, gardens, stables and sheds and each season have a prepared paddock with very short grass and irrigate it. I can tell you fire does not burn green grass! I am not sure I would stay if the conditions were like Black Saturday with extreme heat and high winds, although we have been lucky and were saved by wind changes on Ash Wednesday 1983 and Black Saturday. After watching a neighbour’s horses seeking refuge in a dam, I wouldn’t be as worried about the ponies again provided they had access to our lake. In this age when people can be so openly critical we received our fair share for staying to defend and not evacuating the ponies, however we never felt that we were going to die and we had two steadfast survival plans. It simply was not safe or practical to evacuate the ponies. We have no doubt at all that if we had not stayed and defended we would have lost everything, like our neighbours.
It was a very emotional day when the ponies all came home. To see them coming up a blackened and desolate Tinkham Road in convoy, after 15 weeks away, brought mum to tears.
We know that many WP&CSofA members, family and friends, have suffered tragic losses in the months and months of bushfires in recent and past fire seasons right across Australia and been severely traumatised by their horrendous experiences. It will take years to return to life as they knew it, if indeed they ever do. What we can say to them is that we do understand, give them our support and send our love and best wishes.
For all at Llanfairbryn