Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day rises out of the ashes after devastating bushfires

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day: L-R is Sally Block, Vincenzo Velletri, Leilani Leyland and Jennifer Kent. Photo by Michael Wilson
Camera IconGidgegannup Small Farm Field Day: L-R is Sally Block, Vincenzo Velletri, Leilani Leyland and Jennifer Kent. Photo by Michael Wilson Credit: Picture: Michael Wilson

Three months on since their community was gutted by fire, Gidgegannup locals are rallying together to hold an event expected to lift spirits and bring crowds back to the town.

Now in its 13th year, this Sunday’s Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day will be even more important than ever as a focal point of activities intended to entertain, educate and inform residents and visitors to the area.

Fittingly, this year’s theme is ‘After the Fires’ — an acknowledgement of the impact of the terrifying Wooroloo bushfire which destroyed 86 homes in February as it swept through the rural area.

Unstoppable and unpredictable, the blaze led firefighters a fiery dance as it twisted and turned an unpredictable path through bushland and inhabited areas.

It left behind a trail of broken hearts, smouldering homes, charred fence posts and obliterated outbuildings.

But not all was lost in the fires.

The community spirit which seems to always shine after such events has provided the energy to drive the field day organisers forward, despite the distressing nature of the disaster that still impacts on their daily lives.

Good fortune has played a role.

The Wooroloo bushfire burns through an Eagles Nest property in Gidgegannup.
Camera IconThe Wooroloo bushfire burns through an Eagles Nest property in Gidgegannup. Credit: Morten Boe

While their own properties were overcome by the fire, with fences, trees and other infrastructure damaged or destroyed, Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day organisers Sally Block and Jennifer Kent shared one consolation: neither of them lost their homes.

The fact that their homes emerged from the fires intact has not only been a source of gratitude for both, but has also enabled them to get on with the job.

The pair are two of a group driving the Field Day, keeping the event on the calendar so that it can provide the area with a dose of good cheer and inspiration when needed most.

Like so many other events on regional WA’s calendar, last year’s event was cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Empathetic exhibitors understood why the the event was cancelled, and many insisted the organisers keep their payments for the following year’s event.

“On the weekend that the field day should have been on last year, we felt a sense of loss,” Mrs Block said.

“Towards the end of 2020, everything looked fine, planning was under way, and we were looking forward to the 2021 event.”

Then, on the first day of February this year, “all hell” broke loose.

When she first smelled the smoke on that day, Mrs Block said she was not alarmed.

“I said to my husband that it was miles away. I thought that the fire posed no problems, and that we would just watch it,” she said.

“But then the bushfire proceeded to devour everything in its path.”

Mrs Block said the fact the fire kept changing direction made it hard to predict or plan.

She and her husband had packed their essential belongings, dogs, leads and food for dogs and secured them safely in second house on their property, hoping it would be safe.

But when the fire hit their property, efforts quickly focused on saving their primary home, and protecting the bridge that provided access and escape from the property.

She then returned to the “safe haven” to find two fire units in place, working to hose down the building.

“The fire was 200m from our boundary, and there was a chance it would take the house out, so I got the dogs, and our two suitcases, slung them into the ute and left,” Mrs Block said.

Vehicles destroyed in Gidgegannup.
Camera IconVehicles destroyed in Gidgegannup. Credit: Ian Munro

Fortunately for the Block family, both of their houses survived the fire, and their livestock survived, but their fences were all damaged or razed. Years of work was destroyed in such a short time.

“Every fence or gate is burnt or damaged,” Mrs Block said.

Like Mrs Block, Mrs Kent said while she was devastated by the damage to her family’s property, she could only imagine how those who had lost their homes felt.

“Our entire farm was impacted: every paddock, with fencing down. We lost our shed with the tractor, slasher, tools, ride-on mower, super spreader,” Mrs Kent said.

The Kents’ livestock also survived the fire, and were found standing inside the non-existent fence lines, waiting for their usual feed.

“The cows, horses, alpacas and sheep . . . I was surprised that they all stayed in, so that was a positive experience,” she said.

And while the scope of the devastation was overwhelming, she said that she felt like she was coping well, mentally.

“Once we had a plan of attack made, I was fine,” Mrs Kent said.

The catastrophic bushfires that engulfed the region originally stymied hopes for the this year’s Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day.

Throw in a COVID-19 lockdown for Perth and Peel regions at the same time as the bushfires and it seemed the field day committee would face insurmountable challenges.

The fire was 200m from our boundary, and there was a chance it would take the house out, so I got the dogs, and our two suitcases, slung them into the ute and left.

Sally Block

While the threat of fires and COVID have simmered, allowing locals to think about something other than survival, it has still been a challenge getting this year’s event organised.

“We had no power for three weeks: it is difficult to organise a field day without power,” Mrs Block said.

“I have been operating from a laptop: my antiquated PC couldn’t be connected to the generator.”

With post-fire considerations already in play — including paddocks to be re-fenced and insurance companies to be dealt with — field day preparations were three weeks behind.

Mrs Kent said that despite the difficulties of planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in light of the fires, planning had gone relatively smoothly.

“We decided to go ahead with the planning in the belief that it would go ahead,” Mrs Kent said.

Now, as the day approaches, excitement is building — tempered by the fear that at any time the event could be scrapped due to a COVID-19 breakout.

“Despite the fallout from the fires, we have managed to get everything done, and we are hoping not to not get a snap lockdown,” Mrs Kent said.

Her hopes for fine weather and a wonderful weekend are shared by Mrs Block, who describes herself as an “eternal optimist”.

“We are all ready, we have had decent rain, now all we wish for is glorious weather on the weekend,” Mrs Block said.

The Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day will be held from 9am to 4.30pm on Sunday, May 30, at the Gidgegannup Showgrounds at 2171 Toodyay Road in Gidgegannup.

Tickets are $10 for adults and can be purchased at the gate. Children under 16 are free.

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