Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Hills, trees and a dam

Hi everyone,

Wednesday evening, and it's been an orange coloured few days.

When I last posted, I explained how I was down at Creswick on a peer support training weekend.  The Course was immensely productive and it was good to see other SES Peers from across the state: aside from this training we'd rarely if ever meet.  I got a good run in on the Saturday evening before the presentation dinner.  Even though Creswick is chilly, it's beautiful hilly country to run in.  I'd love to do a lot more of it through the country owned by the School of Forestry.

If you're interested, these are the photographs that I took while I was down there.

The SES theme has continued into the week.  Monday wasn't a bad day, and I picked up a bit of labouring work as I said before.  A flood watch was issued through the afternoon, to kick in on Tuesday and Wednesday because of expected heavy rain.  This meant that Tuesday itself became a fairly full day.  I spent most of the morning working in Shepparton again, and then came back here so that the old boy and I could go over to Mansfield in the afternoon to help a friend round up some steers to take to market.  We were mustering on motorbikes and four-wheelers, and chasing the cattle took us right to the ridge overlooking our friend's place.  This was epically worth it.  The valley laid out below is mind-bogglingly beautiful and peaceful.

Because the weather was expected to get bad, I drove over to Tatura in the evening to pick up the four wheel drive and storm trailer to provide rapid response to any jobs.  In case you're wondering, this is what that ensemble looks like in daylight -

I drove back here on Tuesday evening and I'd no sooner walked in the house when my pager went off to advise of a tree down / traffic hazard.  I was the duty officer, so I activated one member from Tatura with the truck and then I drove through Shepparton towards the job, picking up a crew on the way.  The job was less significant than had been initially thought and the truck was able to deal with it before we got there.  We met and compared notes at Mooroopna before dispersing for home.

I tumbled into bed a bit after midnight and was asleep by about 0100.

Not for long though.  At about 0345 my pager went off again for a tree down / traffic hazard at Pinelodge.  I was still duty officer, so I got up and acknowledged the job to Dispatch, confirmed a crew could turn out, and headed out.  What did we find at the scene?  A fellow waving us down and directing us to a much more pressing matter: a truck that had run off the road into a farm dam!  I really really want to tell you what happened next, because we were the first emergency unit on scene and I think we did a good job (aside from one glitch - I failed to make or direct to be made a wordback to dispatch).  However, I'll be responsible and not talk about it.  I'm proud of what we did though.  If details surface on the web I'll share them.

I don't know if it was the sleep deprivation or the intense start to the day that leaves you feeling a bit flat, but I had trouble finding my stride today.  I've read a little and there was some farm work in the evening, but I couldn't much settle my mind to anything.

Not much more to note.  More farm work tomorrow.  The weather has passed through so hopefully the pager will stay quiet tonight!

Friday, 26 August 2016

Week update ... heavy eyelids...

Hi everyone,

This isn't the post I'd planned to write this evening.  I was planning a piece on rooftop safety, but I'm sitting at a desk in my digs for the weekend and starting to get drowsy.

If you know me on Facebook, you'll know it's been a busy week.  I had the community gathering in Tatura on Monday night (I've blogged a copy of my remarks there previously).  On Wednesday there was a Ministerial event in Shepparton, where the Emergency Services Minister came up to formally handover a storm trailer to Shepparton Rescue and Tatura SES.  I was up early for that event to be sure I had enough time to wash our truck and take it over.  It was odd to find myself one of the people named at the event - even now it can be a surprise to find I'm the unit controller!  The Shepparton News did a good writeup on the event here, and they even supplied video:

Last night was training night, which finished late for me as I stopped to do some paperwork.  I got home at 0230 and was getting ready for bed when I found I still had the keys to the Rescue truck in my pocket!  I knew I had to return them ASAP in case there was a Priority One job, so back to Tatura I had to go.  I finally got to bed about 0400. zzzzzzz

Today I've come down to Creswick for the Peer Support training weekend.  I met Lisa and Ian, two other peers, at the SES shed in Tatura; when I got there I was touched that some nice person had left a bag of fresh-picked mandarins on the doorstep:

I know what we do is valued, but it feels good to have it said in gestures like this.

Anyway, I have sleep to catch up on.  Hope your fridays are going well!

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Remarks at 'What's Happening in Your Town?', Tatura Senior Citizens' Centre, 22 August 2016

Hello everyone.  My name is Stephen Tuck and I'm the Controller at the Tatura SES Unit.

You're probably aware that our biggest responsibility is providing emergency response to storm and flood events in the Tatura and Shepparton areas, as well as undertaking road crash rescue.  Our shed is down at the corner of Russell and Martin Streets.  It's there that we keep our truck, other vehicles, tools and all the equipment we use to do our work.


Our unit objectives for this year have been to complete a number of upgrades to our shed, to allow us to better respond to and manage major incidents.  We're also seeking to raise our public profile, and like every volunteer organization we'd like to recruit more members.


To achieve these goals, we've been undertaking quite a bit of fundraising in the area - you may have seen our collection tins at various venues? - and the good people at the Shepparton News and Tatura Guardian have covered quite a few stories relating to the SES.

We're keen to build up links with businesses in the community who might be able to help us with resources.  For example, if you look at the back of our shed you'll see a number of cars in various states of deconstruction.  These are the cars we use to train for road rescue on.  It would certainly help us to be able to borrow a car trailer to transport them to and from our yard.

We would also love to build links with community groups that might have members who would like to volunteer with us, like the Men's Shed or the RSL.  If you have any members who you think would be interested, we'd love to hear from them.

We can help!

We have a strong community education program, and if you'd like us to speak to (say) a youth group or something similar about storm or flood safety or rescue work, we'd be delighted to do so.

The other thing we can supply are 'boots on the ground'.  For example, at the fun run held recently by Tatura Primary School, we supplied a number of members as race marshals.  So, if you have an event where we might be able to help, just get in touch!

Thank you.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Book Review: Julia Keay, Alexander the Corrector (Overlook Press: New York, 2004)

I'd never heard of Alexander Cruden before I stumbled upon this book in Book Grocer while I was waiting for a train.  I learned that he was the author of another text I'd (embarassingly) never heard of: Cruden's Concordance, an index to every significant word used in the Bible (including the deuterocanonical books), first published in 1737.  The monumental scale of this task is hard to grasp until you pick up a copy of the Old and New Testaments in the form beloved by modern printers: that is, on very thin paper and printed in 10-point (or smaller) Times New Roman.  What you'll immediately grasp is just how many words there are.  The achievement is even more impressive when you remember that Cruden was preparing this work in his spare time from working as a proof-corrector (in essence, a kind of human spell- and grammar-checker), with a dip-pen and by lamplight.  Sadly, Cruden left no record of how he prepared this work, and Keay can only offer us an educated guess as to how it might have been done (pp.29-35).

It's much more than a biography of a book.  Cruden is known to have been held in a mental asylum at least three (possibly four) times in his life.  Keay uses these events as the guidepoints for much of the book, interpreting much of Cruden's life as an attempt to prove his own sanity beyond doubt.  I'm not completely convinced by this as an interpretive approach.  History-writing can be the art of extracting narrative from the details of the past [1], but I think Keay gives her subject's life more direction than is completely plausible.  On the other hand, it lets her convert an otherwise potentially dry subject into a gripping tale of struggle, treachery, and people making choices.  On balance I think Keay's choice of approach is justified.  Sometimes it's better to have a historian's scrupulousness give way to the talents of the writer and the needs of a publisher.

One interesting possibility is whether Cruden ever considered emigrating to the new world, where his particular religious intensity might have been better appreciated [2] (it's possible that it would have been scandalised too).  Keay makes no reference to it, so we can assume that if Cruden considered migrating he didn't consider it for long.  The other question I ask myself is what he would have made of Christianity today.  We can infer that he would have still regarded Catholicism and Orthodoxy as incomprehensibly flawed.  Depressingly, he may well have sympathised with the crude venom of a Jack Chick.  On the other hand, we can be sure that he would have been enchanted by the power of modern technology to organize and make accessible the world's information.  Perhaps that too would have allowed him to imagine and see a world of ideas and knowledge more complex and multidimensional than he could ever have imagined in his own era [3].  Cruden was a straightforward man, but Keay has certainly proved that he was also a man of great vision.


[1] Hayden White, 'The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory', History and Theory 23 (1984) 1-33, pp.19-21.
[2] Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot's History of the United States (Sentinel: New York, 2007), pp.43-44
[3] Consider Christopher White, 'Seeing Things: Science, the Fourth Dimension, and Modern Enchantment', American Historical Review 119 (2014) 1466-1491.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Weekend Diary

Hi everyone,

Sunday evening.  It's been a fairly quiet weekend here, with showers of greater or lesser degree.

Perhaps surprisingly, the weekend is almost as important when you're unemployed as when you're working.  It's when you don't feel guilty.  During the week, you have a constant sense of shame that you're not at work and instead you're just killing time.  I do what I can to keep myself busy, with looking for work and doing farm stuff and writing and running my SES unit.  At some level, though, it feels like you're kidding yourself and simply playing at being an adult.  Not fun.  On Saturday I swallowed my pride and began the process of applying for the dole.  Even though I miss my girls constantly, and even kind of miss (the life I had with?) the ex, I'm genuinely glad none of them are here to see my life now.

With that in mind, I was genuinely grateful to have my pager go off a couple of times this weekend.  The ground hereabouts is absolutely saturated and trees are starting to fall over under their own weight.  When they fall on roads, it constitutes a threat to safety and that's why SES is called out.  The first job was on Friday evening, on the Midland Highway.  The speed limit on the highway is 100 km/h, so a fallen tree is a genuine hazard that needed an emergency response.

The second job was less than twelve hours later, just about 0800.  It was probably borderline whether it needed an emergency response - it was a moderate sized tree but on a back road - but the job had come through and I was happy to go.  One of our other members also came across, as did a VicRoads worker, and with a bit of cutting and lifting we cleared the road.

My pager went off again about 0615 this morning for a third tree down / traffic hazard.  I'd just finished getting on my boots and overalls and was about to leave when a further message came through from Victoria Police advising that the road had been cleared.  Well and good: I went back to bed!  This had its upside because it meant I was free to skype with Grace and Rachel later that morning.

Poor Gracie has a touch of tonsilitis, although it didn't seem to have slowed down her voice.  I swear she could talk underwater!  Well, it slowed her a little bit, so Rachel and I got to have a little daddy-daughter time.  She was sleepy and asked me to sing her a lullaby.  I sang the song I loved to sing her when she was a little baby, The Black Velvet Band.  She didn't go to sleep, but it was a good peaceful moment for us nevertheless.

Not much more to note.  This week I've got a couple of actual jobs to apply for, as well as two things where I'll be the public face of the Tatura unit.  I'll try and squeeze in a blood donation too.  If I run out of other ideas, I'll start sounding out Red Cross about setting up a branch in Shepparton (oddly enough, there isn't one).  If I'm going to be a welfare parasite, society might as well get value for money.

No more to add just now.  Hope your weekends are going well!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Bible for Emergency Workers

Regular readers will probably have twigged that I'm a bit of a bible-thumper.  I started wondering what particular passages might be relevant to my other passion: emergency work.
The SES's core responsibilities are storms, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis.  The Bible turned out to say quite a few things to say about each.  Regarding storms -
A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.  And they went and woke him up, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!".  And he said to them, "Why are you afraid, you of little faith?"  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a dead calm.  They were amazed, saying, "What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him? (Matthew 8:24-27; see also Mark 4:37-40 and Luke 8:23-25).
Picking a verse for flood was hardly difficult.  After the great flood of Noah, God promised that "never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Genesis 9:11).

An earthquake accompanied Jesus' death on the Cross  "At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  The earth shook, and the rocks were split" (Matthew 27:51)

Finding a verse for tsunami was more difficult.  The one I found is also suited to a comet strike, but a catastrophic wave is also hinted at -
The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea.  A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed (Revelation 8:8-9.).
As well as these core functions, a large part of the Service's work is road crash rescue.  The Scriptures actually seem to require this sort of rescue: "You shall not see your neighbour's donkey or ox fallen on the road and ignore it; you shall help to lift it up" (Deuteronomy 22:4).  It makes sense that if we're required to rescue someone's beast of burden from an accident on the road, we're even more required to rescue other people!

Finally, we're regularly asked to carry out land and water searches when people have gone missing.  The last two searches I've been to ended with the missing person being found deceased.  This is a sad ending; I try to remind myself that our role is simply to find the person.
On the next day ... Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors .... He also took up a collection ... and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering.  In doing this he acted very well and honourably (2 Maccabees 12:39-43)
If we have find the person alive, it's a great outcome.  If we haven't, then we've allowed them to be returned to their loved ones so that they may do what they consider right.

Disasters - natural and otherwise - are sometimes called Acts of God.  Why a loving God would commit such acts is one of the tougher questions of philosophy, but one can't ignore the verses from Matthew 27 and Revelation above.  Well and good.  But Matthew 8, and Deuteronomy and Maccabees tell us something more encouraging.  When we go to relieve the effects of disasters or accidents, we can be sure we're doing the best thing we can possibly do.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

[Book Review] John Pinkney, Haunted: The Book of Australia's Ghosts

Review: John Pinkney, Haunted: The Book of Australia's Ghosts (Five Mile Press, Melbourne, 2005).

Pinkney's book is a collection of ghost stories from around Australia (with an honourable mention to an Australian ghost in Britain).  Some of the stories are drawn from written records (for example, the old tale of the ghost of Frederick Fisher).  Many more are modern accounts provided to Mr Pinkney by members of the public.  There are some old friends here, like the ghost of the baritone Federici, haunting Melbourne's Princess Theatre, and there are many that are more obscure (the phantoms of the Mornington Peninula freeway were new to me, despite growing up in that area).

The book is written in a good conversational style.  You could imagine much of it being taken from a Sunday newspaper.  Most of the stories have a well-worn quality, as if they'd been told and retold many times over cups of tea.

If one were picky, the book could be criticised.  Written and verbal accounts are treated completely uncritically, and there are multiple references to half-identified characters ("said to be the ghost of a nurse"; "thought to have been a soldier").  Criticising it this way, though, rather misses the point.  This isn't meant to be a textual or historical analysis of the evidence for ghosts.  Instead, it's a work of modern folklore - the sort that spins a good yarn even if it means stretching a few details here and there (I think it was Hayden White who said that there's nothing so human as the desire to tell stories).  The subject matter itself is an example of a desire to talk about what links those who are dead with those who are still living, and to pass these tales on to people yet unborn.

I give this one four stars out of five.  Read and enjoy!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Mushroom clouds, but no mushrooms

I borrowed from my SES Unit's shed some of the older booklets we have lying about.  Lord knows how we've not mislaid them: they seem to date from when the unit was the Shire of Rodney Civil Defence Organization and preparing for nuclear war.

One that is particularly fascinating is the Directorate of Civil Defence's Welfare (Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra, 1967).  Its 62 A6 sized pages cover setting up a welfare service and centre in conditions of nuclear fallout, arranging supplies of food and clothing, ensuring proper sanitation, and the billetting and registration of displaced people.

Image from here

The section on catering is particularly striking.  It covers setting up an improvised kitchen using materials scavenged from wrecked buildings (chiefly bricks and sheets of metal, held together with a mortar improvised from sifted soil and water).  Steel rubbish bins are favoured for ovens.  Instructions are included for building a three-stand washing up station out of 44 gallon drums.  It recommends dividing waste into wet rubbish (including food scraps), dry rubbish, garbage (including tea leaves and coffee grounds), bones and tins.  Garbage is to be burned, and wet rubbish used as pig feed (pp.11-25).

Some idea of anticipated need can be had from the kitchen diagrams and the recipes.  A small kitchen is intended to feed 250 people; a large one would feed a thousand.  The recipes give amounts needed to feed 100 and 500 people in servings of 1/2 a pint (0.28 litre) per person.  By way of example, the instructions for Irish Stew for 500 people are (p.29) -
  • Mutton - 110 lb (49.9 kgs)
  • Onions - 25 lb (11.34 kgs)
  • Potatoes - 175 lb (79.38 kgs)
  • Turnips - 25 lb (11.34 kgs)
  • Water - 22.5 gallons (102.3 litres)
  • Salt - 1 lb 12 oz (0.79 kgs)
  • Pepper - 2 oz (0.05 kgs)
My friend Lauren recently set out her preferred instructions for Macaroni and Cheese.  In a post-apocalypse world, the recommendations for that dish (for 500 people) were (pp.29-30) -
  • Macaroni - 40 lb (18.14 kgs)
  • Grated Cheese - 15 lb (6.8 kgs)
  • Flour - 20 lb (9.07 kgs)
  • Milk & Water - 17.5 gallons (79.6 litres)
  • Margarine - 2 lb 8 oz (1.13 kgs)
  • Salt - 1 lb 4 oz (0.57 kgs)
  • Pepper - 1.5 oz (0.04 kgs)
The recipes are all things that can be prepared in single large batches by a cook with only basic skills.  Interestingly, no allowance is made for food allergies, dietary preferences or religious requirements.  In addition, the recommended inventory for the kitchen includes perishable food (for example, fish, fresh milk, tomatoes and vegetables) but not fresh fruits (yes, I know that the tomato is a fruit, but you get the idea).  Presumably it was assumed that living in a post-war world would simply be a matter of survival.

If cooking outside in radioactive fallout conditions, the guide recommended that "all equipment and utensils should be washed or hosed to remove dust.  Any washing cloths should then be thoroughly rinsed and the water used for washing and rinsing discharged down a drain or got rid of in some way".  Food should be kept under cover or thoroughly washed if fallout contamination was suspected.  The guide recommends burying tins and wrappers which may be contaminated  (pp.31-2).

What's most impressive about this booklet is how comprehensive it was: assuming that foodstuffs and water could be had, in an emergencya person with minimal training could set up and operate a field kitchen based on the instructions provided.  This alone makes it knowledge worth preserving.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Orange Intensity Redux

Hi everyone,

It's been another intensely orange week for me, with a tincture of red and a purple flourish.


I had a call on Monday from the SES Peer Support manager for my region asking if I could go and provide post-incident support to an SES unit that had gone out to a really bad job.  For confidentiality reasons I won't give details.  It's enough to say that the job was one that's on my personal list of 'nightmare scenarios', and some members of the crew that turned out looked a bit rattled.  I'm glad we could go out there and make sure they were doing OK and provide support to them.  They're a strong and experienced unit, but I hope it was still helpful for them to know the organization was there to support them.


Tuesday turned red with a trip to the Blood Bank in the late afternoon.  It's a stupid thing, but I still flinch every time the needle goes into my elbow.  But what makes it worthwhile?

Bugger saving lives: this is all about the cookies afterwards!

Wednesday & Thursday

On Wednesday afternoon a pager message came out advising that the Murchison SES Unit would be offline for a fortnight.  They're a smaller unit, and I think a couple of their more experienced operators are away.  My Unit as well as units from Euroa, Seymour, Shepparton and Rushworth will be covering part of their area.  No worries, I thought to myself, most likely things will stay quiet out there anyway.  What happened at 0210 Thuesday morning?  My pager went off to say we'd been requested by police to assist with a search for a missing person.  I was unit duty officer that night, so I called the regional duty officer and the police officer in charge, got a quick briefing and then activated the Tatura Unit, including our boat.

To cut to the chase, the news release prepared by Victoria Police News after the search advised that -
Police divers have recovered a body during their search for a missing Murchison North woman.
The deceased woman was found during a search of an area in and around the Goulburn River this afternoon.
The death is not being treated as suspicious.
Police will prepare a report for the coroner.

Because the search ended in tragedy, I'll follow my usual approach and not discuss details of the search.  I just don't feel it's appropriate to do so.  It's enough to say that I'm very proud of how my Unit performed.  Because only two of us who turned out are boat-qualified (me being one of them), one of our younger members had to step into the role of SES Commander at the incident control centre, and be in charge of the entire SES part of the response.  After daylight, that response included not just our unit, but also Seymour, Benalla, Rushworth, a Regional Support Unit and a parallel service from Shepparton.  The member in question had to step up bigtime and he absolutely distinguished himself.

I couldn't have been more impressed with his performance.  When the bad news about the lady came through, he came into the lunch room where the search teams were eating and announced it, and his bearing was different to how it usually is.  He was speaking to about thirty-five SES personnel, most of them older and more experienced than him, but he was as confident and matter of fact as the oldest veteran.  I was proud he was part of our unit.

For my part, in the morning (as in from about 0400 to 0830) I was out on the boat doing a river search with our most experienced coxswain.  I can tell you that the Goulburn is cold in the small hours of the morning.  He took us downriver and I brought us back up.  I'm pleased to say I remembered a good deal of what I learned on the coxswain's course.  In the later morning we joined the team doing line searches.

As I said before, the search didn't end how anyone wanted it to.  There's not much you can say about that: it's a terrible outcome and that's all there is to it.  I detest the word 'closure' for this sort of thing, but I don't have a better one.  It's better that she can be put to rest decently than not at all.

Because a lot of members of the unit had been at the search since the small hours, many of us were at the end of our duty time limits.  We cancelled training that night and gave everyone the night off.


Fairly predictably I slept late on Friday and spent a decent whack of the day going though a blizzard of unread emails and looking for jobs.  When I was going to bed, though, I checked out my Facebook feed and saw a bunch of purple flood warnings for Louisiana.

I texted the ex to confirm everyone is OK over there (they are, although Baton Rouge and points west are getting smashed) but I went to sleep feeling guilty.  My girls are there - and other people I care about are there - and I'm here.  Moreover, I'm here when I could do something to help there.  As improbable as it sounds (to me as much as anyone), when the clouds get black and the weather turns to crap, I know what to do.

I guess this isn't unusual - I expect firies, police and amboes have the same sensation - but it's different when your family are involved.  It's like having a shoe with a polished upper and a hole in the heel.

No more for now.  Hope you're all doing OK and that life is a bit quieter at your end than it is at this one!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Review: Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (2015)

I recently finished reading Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  I can recommend it to any reader, Catholic or not.
I’ve read documents from Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  Pope Francis is a certainly easier to read than JP2, but perhaps not quite as polished as B16.  Regardless, he has a knack for clear expression which was on full display in this document.  One of the key passages in it would make sound reading for every priest, leader and lawyer in the world:
If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected.  But mere justice is not enough.  Experience shows that an appeal to justice alone will result in its destruction.  This is why God goes beyond justice with his mercy and forgiveness.  Yet this does not mean that justice should be devalued or rendered superfluous.  On the contrary: anyone who makes a mistake must pay the price.  However, this is just the beginning of conversion, not its end, because one begins to feel the tenderness and mercy of God.  God does not deny justice.  He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice. (p.32)

There’s an echo here of the sermons of St Bernard of Clairvaux, with their focus on inner feeling.  There’s also an implicit rejection of the narrowness of the sola scriptura / sola fide school(s) of thought, which reduces the Scriptures to a bundle of rules, and which limits God’s mercy to the single act of the Crucifixion.

This text gives a beautiful explanation of the much-misunderstood sacrament of Penance.  It explains that –
Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves.  We priests have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this.  None of us wields power over this Sacrament; rather we are faithful servants of God’s mercy through it.  Every confessor must accept the faithful as the father in the parable of the prodigal son: a father who runs out to meet his son despite the fact that he has squandered away his inheritance.  Confessors are called to embrace the repentant son who comes back home and to express the joy of having him back again.  Let us never tire of also going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust in light of the father’s boundless mercy (p.27)
There’s much in this Bull of Indiction to admire (including its style and relative brevity).  Certainly if one wanted a text to explain to someone what Catholics believe, this would be a good place to start.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Talk given to Tatura Probus Club on 28 July 2016.

I was recently invited to speak to the Tatura Probus Club about the SES.  This was the talk I gave.

Talk by Stephen Tuck (Controller, Tatura SES Unit) to Tatura Probus Club at Lagozzino’s Top Pub, 28 July 2016.
Good morning everyone and thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.  As your president has just said, my name is Stephen Tuck and I’m the Controller at the Tatura State Emergency Service Unit.
I’m sure most of you already know what the SES does, but by way of summary we are the control agency for storms, floods, earthquakes and tsunamis in Victoria.  That is, our role is to guide the community in preparing for these events, manage the response when they occur, and coordinate recovery after they have occurred.  In addition, we are a support agency for a large number of other emergency events and provide specialist assistance to other emergency response agencies.  For example, Victoria Police are the control agency for missing persons; the SES is regularly tasked with providing teams to undertake searches in rural and remote areas.
One of our key roles, both as a support agency and control agency, is conducting rescues and in particular road crash rescue (for which the control agency is Victoria Police).  The accident at Harston earlier this week, was one which we attended and where we conducted a rescue.

A Little History

As best we’ve been able to establish, the Tatura SES Unit started life in about 1968 as the Shire of Rodney Civil Defence Organisation.  Along with most civil defence services at that time, its role would have tended heavily to preparation for alleviating the effects of war, and particularly nuclear war.  Even today in some SES sheds, one still comes across publications covering how to set up a small refugee camp, how to register displaced persons, how to operate an emergency telephone system and so on.  As the threat of war diminished through the 1980s and into the 1990s, the SES directed its energies towards natural disaster relief, and along the way acquired a rescue function which had previously been carried out by St John Ambulance (I was interested to learn the other day that the Westgate Bridge collapse in 1970 was the last major rescue operation carried out by St Johns).

Civil Defence practice, Canberra, 1968 (National
Archives of Australia, Image No A1200/L78195)


The organization today consists of 150 separate units around the state.  They range in size from less than a dozen members (like Mitta Mitta) to over a hundred (like Wyndham).  Each unit has a large amount of discretion in how it organizes itself and the work it focuses on.  Many units outside of Melbourne, for example, are responsible for carrying out road crash rescues, and they train and equip themselves for this work.  Others have developed a particular expertise in things they are often asked to do.  For example, Warragul and Mansfield are routinely asked to do land searches, and Craigieburn is regularly tasked with assisting the police with evidence searches.

Each Unit will have a controller and a number of Deputy Controllers, and below them Team and Section Leaders with specific areas of responsibility (for example, equipment maintenance; finance).  The most striking this about the service is that there is, genuinely, enough work for everyone.  A member who is young and hale and hearty can certainly find work “on the tools”.  However, a member who has a few injuries or who isn’t as young as they used to be will still be a critical part of a unit – for example, by maintaining chainsaws, managing inventory or finance, or by developing a cluster of specialist skills.  The accident at Harston this week was an excellent example of precisely that: The team that went out to the scene ran into difficulty communicating with dispatch and only poor radio communication could be achieved.  However, one of our members who is currently not able to go out into the field remained at the shed managing communications.  The teams in the trucks were able to communicate with the shed and he relayed the communications to dispatch.  Without that sort of support, we simply could not have done the work we needed to do.

Our Unit

The Tatura unit currently has about 20 members of whom 15 are active and 12 operational.  We have three vehicles –
  • A heavy rescue truck, which is our workhorse and which carries all of the equipment which we might be required to use for any given job including storm damage response, rescue and flood control. 
  • A four-wheel drive Nissan Patrol, which is chiefly used as a transport vehicle and which would be used to tow a ‘storm trailer’.  This last item is a heavy trailer carrying all of the gear we would usually carry for responding to severe weather events: plastic sheeting, rooftop safety equipment, chainsaws, lighting and so on.
  • A four-wheel drive Nissan Navara, which carries lighting and chainsaws and is best suited to responding to fallen trees which cause traffic hazards.
Our numbers currently enable us to put all three of our vehicles on the road at the one time with a full crew, so we’re well equipped to respond to a range of simultaneous emergency situations in the Goulburn Valley.

In addition, we are a ‘boat’ unit.  That is, the State organization has allocated us a Savage Jabiru and trained a number of our members to undertake flood rescues.


Road Rescue

The SES has largely avoided becoming entangled in the dispute between the Country Fire Authority and the United Firefighters Union.  You may be aware however that one of the claims in the disputed Enterprise Bargaining Agreement is that paid firefighters be trained and equipped to undertake road crash rescue.  This would potentially affect the SES, although my personal view is that this shouldn’t be treated as a cause for agitation: at present a review of Victoria’s road crash rescue arrangements is underway and changes affecting both the CFA and SES are likely to occur.  However, the review has been long expected: current road rescue arrangements were established in 2002 and it’s appropriate to confirm that they still match the strengths and capacities of all agencies.

Current road rescue arrangements in Victoria sound more convoluted than in fact they are.  Broadly speaking, Victoria Police are the control agency for road accidents.  For example, they investigate for any driving offences that may have occurred, manage traffic and assure public safety, lay any charges and (in extreme cases) prepare reports for the coroner.  Ambulance Victoria are responsible for patient care and transportation of casualties to hospital.  The CFA manages fire suppression and hazardous chemical control.  The SES is responsible for extrication of trapped casualties; we are also regularly asked to assist police by providing lighting and other support following accidents. 

Somewhat surprisingly, because our role is to carry out road crash rescue, we technically have no role where a casualty is deceased (and therefore beyond the reach of rescue).  However, where the deceased is (so to speak) trapped in a wrecked vehicle, the police will usually ask us to extricate the body.  In such a case we do this with the same techniques and professionalism as we would use on a live casualty, showing proper respect for the dignity of the deceased.

Current challenges

Like most volunteer organizations, the SES has a constant challenge to recruit and retain members: some of you may be aware that  the Tatura-Harston Red Cross unit has had precisely such a difficulty.  On the other hand, as the search for Luke Shambrook near Eildon last year showed, members of the public will reliably step forward when emergencies occur.  This poses some challenges, because emergency work (if performed defectively) can be extremely dangerous to both casualties and rescuers.  That said, this is a not new problem.  One of the assumptions which guided civil defence in the cold war was that in the event of a nuclear war, there would simply not be enough emergency responders to deal with a major catastrophe.  Instead, the assumption was that emergency response would be carried out by people with no or minimal training, with trained responders providing the direction and backbone of the response (as in the film Warning Red from 1956).

Ultimately this may be the future for emergency services of all types.
For our part, the SES trains people for all of the core functions of the SES: that is, the initial training any new member receives are the basic skills in rope work, lighting, machinery use and so on that are deployed at most SES incidents, as well as training in first aid and work health and safety.  After this, a person can develop their skill set as much or as little as they please, with training in use of chainsaws, general rescue, working on rooves or as part of a ground crew, undertaking storm and flood mitigation, undertaking road crash rescue, liaising with the media and undertaking community education.  Overwhelmingly the training is nationally accredited and transferrable.

The other particular challenge facing many units (including ours) is dealing with culturally and linguistically diverse communities.  In the Shepparton area, of course, we have a large population of speakers of Dari and Pashto, and a seasonal backpacker population speaking a range of languages.  This obviously can be challenging with establishing the nature and extent of a person’s emergency.  There are also anecdotal reports of cultural matters which may present a challenge: for example, a gentleman from some Middle Eastern cultures may object to being given directions by a woman, or to having a man speak directly to the gentleman’s wife (although I must say, I’m yet to meet anyone who has encountered such a problem first hand, and I think regardless of a person’s culture, almost everyone understands when someone is there to help them).  This too, however, is only a problem to the extent that we allow it to be.  A project for our unit over the next six months is targeted recruitment aimed at Shepparton’s Afghan and related populations.


Overall then, the Tatura SES Unit has good reason to be optimistic about its future.  It has a history of service stretching back almost fifty years.  Even though there are a few challenges in our current environment, there are great opportunities for members of the public to serve the community while also benefiting themselves.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak today.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Orange Intensity

Hi everyone,
For the first time this week I’m getting a chance to update you.  It’s been intense.


Tuesday morning the rain had largely cleared through, although various river flood warnings were still coming in.  The rain that had fallen elsewhere in the catchments was starting to find its way down to our parts of the Goulburn and Broken Rivers and Seven Creeks.  I spent the morning circulating warnings from the Bureau of Meteorology and establishing what sorts of resources the City Council could throw our way if we needed them.
At midday I got a call from the Incident Control Centre.  A house which we’d looked at yesterday in a low lying area was at risk of being flooded if the river rose to a predicted level.  The house was to be sandbagged on all sides.  We’d be provided with as much sand and sandbags as we needed.  A bag-loading machine would be towed down from the Echuca SES Unit, and a work team would be sent out from Dhurringile Prison.  The ICC had already arranged for volunteers to come and lend a hand from the Northwest Mooroopna and Shepparton fire brigades and a local search and rescue unit.  Oh, and by the way: I was to be the Incident Controller!
What other resources would I need?  I thought quickly and asked if volunteers could be sought from the nearest SES Units.  Volunteers ultimately came from the Rushworth and Numurkah units.
Being made the Incident Controller meant that I was in charge of the whole operation: There were about forty people, the sandbagging machine, lots of shovels and manual sandbag fillers and a front end loader from the Council (for loading sand into the machine).  Units brought lighting equipment as we’d be working into the evening, and I was able to request additional truckloads of sand as we needed them.  I found myself needing to decide where people parked, how the bags were to be filed, what pattern they’d be laid in, how they’d get from the filling area to the wall, and all the other minutiae of the operation.  I’d never had to run a job on that scale before.  In honesty, I was getting a bit overwhelmed and I was immensely grateful when an older and very experienced member of the Rushworth SES Unit offered to shadow me – which meant that he took notes for me and also helped me to set priorities, appoint managers for different parts of the operations and generally keep it on track.

The teams from the various units worked well together, especially once the job found its rhythm.  I can’t speak highly enough of the prison inmates who were there:  they worked flat out for the whole time and only stopped for their meal break at 1830.  Dhurringile is a minimum security prison, so most of them were close to the end of their sentence.  I don’t know what they were in for (save that one of them was apparently getting to the end of a stretch for murder), but they certainly knew how to work.
Running the job was intense, but I’m proud to say that the job got done efficiently and successfully.  There were no disasters, no downtime for want of supply, and towards the end I was finding I was settling into my own role as incident controller.  A few years ago I could never have done that.  I’m proud of what I did.
It took a couple of hours after the wall was finished to get the equipment packed up and returned to the correct depots and the crews on their way home.  It took me a bit longer to get home too as rising waters had cut a number of roads.  I walked in the door about 2230.

Wednesday Morning

On Wednesday morning the unit was tasked with making contact with the homeless people who live in the bush reserve along the Goulburn River between Shepparton and Mooroopna.  The area is low lying, and they mainly live in tents.  This means they’re at risk of becoming isolated or worse if the river overtops.
We took our transport and support vehicles (a Nissan Patrol and Navara), as they’re built for going offroad.  We visited all of the camps we could locate and spoke to everyone who could be found.  Most of them had been watching the rising waters and had already made plans to move to higher ground.  Perhaps paradoxically, they were more self-reliant than most people are.  They assumed that help was unlikely to be coming for them.

Wednesday Afternoon

We’d planned to do some more community education about flood risk in the afternoon (by putting up an information stall at a shopping centre).  We were just sitting down to lunch before starting that job when all our pagers went off for a single vehicle road accident with a person trapped.  Did we move fast?  Yeah we moved fast with lights and sirens that whole way.

I don’t think I should tell details of the operation itself – the SES discourages us from sharing those sorts of things.  I can tell you, though, that it was the most difficult extrication any of us had been involved in.  There was a tree literally though the cabin of the vehicle, and the front driver’s side wheel was where the centre console should have been.  The passenger side of the car was into the table drain, so for most of the job we were knee deep in muddy water.  This was the scene after the extrication was completed -

It took a full hour to complete the extrication.  Every one of us was exhausted afterwards and we spent a couple of hours at the shed afterwards cleaning the gear and debriefing (we also ordered pizza).  I think we all just needed to process a bit.  Usually after a road rescue you feel kind of pumped up; this time I think we all felt the opposite.


No callouts on Thursday, which was frankly a relief.  However, I had a large backlog of administrative things for SES to do and a certain amount of organising to do.  I still felt the strain from the previous day’s accident.  It was on my mind especially as the higher-ups had asked us to conduct a post-action review, so that any learnings could be drawn from the difficult job.  This took up the unit’s training night, and on the plus side we did get some useful information about how our systems are working well and where they can be improved.


I’ve kept it low-key today, filing incident reports from the last few days and tackling some of my leftover emails.  I’m feeling like myself again (aside from being tired), and I’m proud of the work the Unit has done this week.
On to the next set of challenges!

Monday, 1 August 2016

One day I will sleep!

Hi everyone,

I think my pager is trying to deprive me of sleep!

Yesterday morning - Sunday - I was woken at 0451 by the high pitched squeeeeaaaaallllllll that indicates a person trapped.  The accident was a car rollover at Merrigum.  I made a quick assessment of how long it would take me to get to the shed and to the job and decided I couldn't add value, so I declined the job.

Despite this, I was still tracking incident through my phone to know the status of the crew and whether anything needed to be done to support them.  In the event, it was OK: the person did not require rescue and the crew returned to the shed.  But, by then I was wide awake and plugged on with the day.

We're currently under a spate of bad weather and so I'd brought a Unit vehicle back to my place to provide rapid response to trees fallen on motorways.  The weather duly obliged with a tree down on the highway at 0513 this morning.  I headed out and managed traffic until a crew from the highway authority came along to clear it (I stopped to lend a hand).  I thought about starting to cut it up myself but we're strongly discouraged from using chainsaws while one-up: there's too big a risk of being injured without having someone to help.

The balance of the day didn't disappoint, with weather related jobs around the area.  I got home at about 2000.  I'm about to have a much needed shower and get to bed.  This is the weather system outside at present -

I can only wonder if I'm going to be out of bed early again!