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Fired-up to help

From Ash Wednesday to Black Saturday, dairy farmers Janet and Rob Auchterlonie have always answered the cry for help.

As Country Fire Authority (CFA) volunteers, the Legendairy couple from Dumbalk, Victoria, have travelled across the state and Australia, assisting communities in their most desperate hours of need for more than 30 years.

While they are among thousands of Victorian volunteers who don the yellow overalls on a regular basis, the constant demands of twice-a-day milking make the sacrifice of the South Gippsland couple even more remarkable.

Both Rob and Janet, who is Dumbalk brigade captain, are all too familiar with the work that awaits them when they return exhausted from an emergency call-out.

“There’s been times when I’ve got home late from a call-out and had to go straight into the shed to milk,” Rob said.
“It has had a negative impact at times.”

As CFA Strike Team leaders, both Janet and Rob regularly attend major fire incidents, taking them from the farm for days at a time to protect lives and communities hundreds of kilometres away.

Rob, who is also heavily involved at district level as a deputy group officer and peer support officer, spent weeks mopping up after Black Saturday and was recently flown to Western Australia as part of a Victorian contingent of fire fighters helping to battle huge bushfires in the state’s south.

“Over many years there’s been a lot of major fires that Janet and I have attended, more recently as Strike Team leaders,” Rob said.

“We’re both Strike Team leaders which means when she goes I’ll stay, and when she comes back I’ll go.”
Son, Doug, who is also a CFA volunteer, works on the farm, which allows Janet and Rob to attend more call-outs than would otherwise be possible.

Once on the fire ground, they use their professional knowledge to protect the most important assets of farms that are under threat.

“I don’t think non-farmers appreciate the value of a dairy herd and dairy sheds,” Rob said.

“They tend to look at saving a house as being the most important thing, whereas farmers look at the herd and think: ‘that’s what has to be saved’.”

The only time that Janet won’t leave the farm for an extended period is during calving and joining, when the health of her 240-strong herd is the number one priority.

“Because herd health is really important to me, that’s the one time of the year when the farm comes first,” she said.

“My aim is never to lose a cow in calving, which takes a fair bit of work. We have a moral obligation to do the best we can for our animals.”

It’s a labour of love for the Auchterlonies, both on the farm and on the back of the fire truck.

“You couldn’t be a farmer unless you really like the job; and you couldn’t put the time into the CFA unless you enjoyed not only the work, but the people you’re working with,” Rob said.

“I think the community certainly values us.”

Gippsland CFA District 9 operations manager, Mark Jones, paid tribute to the Legendairy efforts of the many dairy farmers who volunteer with the emergency service.

“We recognise the tremendous sacrifice of our self-employed volunteers, including dairy farmers, who put everything on hold, including their livelihood, to protect their community,” he said.

Australia’s Legendairy farmers and their communities will be celebrated at the Legendairy Farmer AFL Round between Collingwood and Adelaide on 11 April at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. The game will also be televised nationally via Fox Footy.