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through the farming deputy’s eyes Natalie Bowman, Deputy Shire President (2015 - Present)

Tuesday 17th November 2015 started out as many other

we needed to make. During harvest, where I was

lives, but who, during an emergency, stepped up to form

Tuesdays have for me, with the usual 8am start at the

surrounded by a busy staff, mostly of men, the drive

a team tasked with roles and responsibilities to deal with

Shire of Esperance, in a meeting with the Shire President

was my sanctuary, my peace and quiet, where I took the

the situation at hand.

and the CEO. In my position as Deputy Shire President,

time to enjoy the trip and relax. This Tuesday was one of

we started each Tuesday with a meeting to discuss the

those drives, watching headers busily working early, and

Being fully involved in this new role and having only been

Council agenda that month and any other issues that

enjoying a sing along with the radio.

in the Deputy position for 4 weeks prior to this day, I was

were happening.

very focussed on gathering information and participating We had a full day of meetings and it wasn’t until lunchtime

to provide local knowledge where I could.

I still had

As I left the farm at Grass Patch at 6.45am for the 1 hour

that I stepped outside to realise the full extent of the

not really placed the location of the fire in my head,

drive into Esperance, I knew that it was going to be a

weather. It was an oppressive heat, one that surrounded

concentrating only on what I needed to do to help keep

hot and windy day. You could feel it in the air and the

you completely and that wind, something I have never

people safe.

blowflies were already lining up on the verandah walls,

experienced before. We have had windy hot days, but

signalling the heat that would come. We knew there was

this day had a different feeling to it – it was eerie and

On the wall of the room was a map showing where the fire

a fire in the North in the bush, but that wasn’t unusual,

made us all fall silent as we felt the intensity of the heat

front was and this was being kept up to date minute by

they are often out there, started by lightning.

coupled with the power of the wind.

minute, with someone coming from the communications room next door with the most up to date information and

We also knew that there would be a harvest ban called

Still nothing untoward crossed my mind, knowing that

transferring it to the map. I remember being continually

early that day due to the weather, so the blokes were

there was a harvest ban in place and my husband and

shocked at how quickly that red fire front line was being

already heading to the paddocks to get as much harvest

staff were probably at home under the air conditioning.

moved.

them to stop. I checked the dog and cocky had plenty

As the council agenda briefing ended, we were made

It was at the end of one of these updates, as the room

of fresh water and jumped into the car without another

aware that there was an issue with the fire in the north

emptied out a little, that I was able to take a closer look at

thought, never thinking that it might be some days before

and the Shire President and myself were asked to head

the map and then realised, with a sinking feeling, that our

I would be able to return.

to the Incident Control Centre for a briefing. It was there

own farm, my home, my family, friends and neighbours

that I began to understand the full extent of the fire issue

were indeed being gobbled up by that rapidly moving

I often used my hour drive to morph from Farmer to

and the risk to my family, friends and neighbours at

line. At that time all I really wanted to do was grab hold

Deputy, switching from thinking about farming, food and

home. The room was filled with Incident Management

of someone who knew the details and focus them on my

staff to thinking about the town issues and the decisions

team members, people like me who had other roles and

farm and find out what was going on out there and what

in as they could before the heat and wind arrived, forcing

pg 26 | NATALIE BOWMAN

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