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Ella’s burning experience

Recently, grade 12 student Ella Hartwig took on a volunteer position with Cape York NRM to help deliver a coordinated burn project on Cape York. Here’s her record of her experience. Ella’s dad Andrew, known to us all as Andy, is Cape York NRM’s Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator (RALF). Andy coordinated the multi-property early burning program in partnership with South Cape York Catchments and Cape York Weeds and Feral Animals Inc.

One of the hurdles to overcome in putting the logistics together for this coordinated burn project was how the COVID-19 1.5 square metre rule impacted travel. As Andrew’s daughter, Ella was able to travel with Andrew without breaking any COVID-19 rules. South Cape York Catchments officially took Ella on as a volunteer, with all Safe Work Method Statements completed and in place. The helicopter pilot had plenty of notice of the project and self-isolated for a two-week period prior. These processes in place meant that we could go ahead with the burn.

"Being able to go along to help dad on this project was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I’m so grateful to have been given the responsibility of the ground support role, which included driving to transport the food, fuel, and swags to different stations up and down the Cape. 

The first trip included two nights’ camping, a drive of around 700 km all up, and visiting four stations. To get to one of the stations I had to travel there and back by chopper!

Some of the highlights were when I got to hold a baby goat, meet some ‘sausage dogs’, and fly above the Peninsula Development Road—a view I’d never seen before. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

In late June we headed out to Normanby Station, and this time I made sure I packed my fishing rod. I got to hang out with the very hospitable station owners, and to see how the ‘Red Dragon’ worked.

It’s a helicopter-mounted device used to distribute aerial ignition devices to ignite controlled or prescribed burns. Even though I almost got motion sickness, it was awesome helping out in the chopper by following a GPS coordinate to fly us to the burn sites.

As well as being able to tag along, I really do appreciate that each time we went out I was able to actually help my dad by being ground support and driving for the crew. It meant they saved chopper fuel and time in the day for burning because I was right there with them with the supplies.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of planning that goes into these jobs. Not to mention that while we were actually out on the job, the plan was ever-changing! So many variables such as humidity, old and new grass, temperature, wind speed and direction, and time of the day!

I am so grateful to Cape York NRM and South Cape York Catchments for the opportunity to volunteer with my dad, and I hope to work in a similar area to him when I finish school at the end of the year."