Wyee Point Rural Fire Brigade

21st November 2019

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (19:24:33): I thank the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker and their team for their kindness, generosity, respect, and the opportunities I have been given this year. I thank the Government generally. There has been a lot said in this place about the State's Rural Fire Service crews over the past few weeks as we battle a bushfire crisis of unprecedented levels. I acknowledge those north of my electorate who have experienced some terrible situations. I acknowledge one particular crew this week that recently marked an important milestone while being called on to assist in the efforts to contain several large fires that are currently bearing down on the Central Coast and Hunter regions.

I was very honoured to attend the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Wyee Point Rural Fire Brigade last month, and even more honoured to catch up with the brigade's founder and inaugural president Graeme King. In 1991 when I began my public life as a member of Lake Macquarie City Council, Graeme was president of the Wyee Point Progress Association. Wyee Point was then a very small community on the southern shores of Lake Macquarie. Like many in my electorate, it is surrounded by vast areas of natural bushland, had a distinct lack of basic utilities and services, but was nonetheless a very tight-knit and active community. Graeme was working very hard then for his community, which was significantly affected by the major 1993-1994 bushfires.

It was then that Graeme began campaigning for Wyee Point to have its own rural fire brigade. A public meeting held at the local caravan park attracted a significant crowd of local residents who voted unanimously to pursue funding for their own brigade. Graeme approached me and the then Lake Macquarie, Mayor John Kilpatrick, as well as the then local fire control officer, Steve Sowter. By June of that year funding had been secured and the first brigade had been formed with 16 members. A shed in Government Road was also secured from the Department of Mineral Resources to form a base for the crew. They were given a Leyland Boxer fire truck by another brigade. Graeme was elected as the brigade's first president.

The Wyee Point Rural Fire Brigade headquarters was officially opened in October of that same year, which is a testament in itself to the will of Graeme and the Wyee Point community. Having started with 16 members, the crew's ranks quickly swelled to 24. Six months later the brigade had 60 members, including juniors, and had advanced plans to build a new station next to the original shed. Graeme has held the position of president for all of the brigade's 25 years, but he has also held the positions of deputy captain, treasurer and community education officer. He has spent almost all of those years as an active firefighter, although he was slowed in recent times by illness. He remains active in administrative and mentoring roles. I acknowledge his ill?health and wish him and his wife all the best.

While Graeme has been involved in countless firefighting efforts locally, he has also served with larger efforts in outlying areas, particularly in the Bulga area, which has seen a number of significant fire emergencies over the past few decades. Like many of our RFS volunteers, efforts are not limited to fighting fires. Graeme and his crews helped out in storm disasters, including the big Sydney storms, and attends incidents such as car accidents in the local area. Like any community organisation that rely on the efforts of volunteers, numbers at the Wyee Point brigade have fluctuated over the years, but it remains strong. Graeme was made a life member in 2007 and remains the brigade's only active foundation member, despite the issues with his health.

This week members of the Wyee Point brigade are assisting with firefighting efforts on the major blaze on Gospers Mountain in the Wollemi National Park and in the Bulga region further up the Hunter Valley. In previous years, crew members have assisted in northern New South Wales, and even as far as Queensland and Tasmania. Wherever they are needed, they will chip in with their expertise. I am pleased to say that the brigade is now much better equipped with resources than it has ever been, and more skilled in firefighting techniques. I know many of the men and women who are currently members of the Wyee Point brigade. The camaraderie in the crew reflects the friendships and spirit that continue to thrive in the Wyee Point community, and I dare say within RFS brigades across the State.

These are people who will never walk away from protecting their town from fire, although we hope those types of threats are few. Graeme's commitment, not just to the Wyee Point Rural Fire Brigade but also to his local community generally, is significant and unwavering. I was honoured to join him and current brigade captain Grant Millard at the brigade's twenty-fifth anniversary dinner last month, and I am honoured that I am able to recognise their efforts and the efforts of the brigade over the past 25 years here in Parliament House. I again thank them for their commitment and extend to them the appreciation of the entire community. I pass on my thanks and wish all RFS volunteers and emergency service personnel a safe fire season.

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