Greyshirt Reflections: Phil’s First International Operation

I had been part of the Greyshirt family for only a couple of months when I found myself on a plane to Australia. My experience with Team Rubicon UK was limited to a community project in Devon but here I was, heading to the other side of the world with fellow Greyshirt Carrie, to augment the relief efforts being carried out by Team Rubicon Australia Greyshirts in the wake of the devastating bushfires, that in many areas were still burning.

I was excited to put all the training and learning into practical application, but also apprehensive, wondering what I would encounter. Many have lost everything but I reassured myself that I was going out to help and give people, some who had lost everything, a bit of practical assistance in their recovery from this tragedy.

The work was hard, both physically and emotionally, but extremely satisfying. As the week went on, we formed stronger and stronger bonds with the Team Rubicon Australia Greyshirts, which was incredibly important because each day we heard more and more stories of heartbreak, trauma and some extreme bravery. The ability to reflect and find support amongst the group is a key element of the Team Rubicon culture.

Our tasks were practical: clearing fallen trees and fence-lines to give access and allow livestock to return to the farmers of rural South Australia, removing debris from the remains of properties and sifting through the ash and rubble in an attempt to recover any keep-sakes and mementoes that may have survived the searing temperatures. At many properties the heat was so intense that we found pools of molten glass and rivers of molten metal. In some cases, we would meet the owner(s) and so there was also a need to listen, empathise and find a supportive word – though how could we begin to imagine how they felt and what they had been through?

At the end of our first week, we moved from the wine country of South Australia to rural Victoria and the Snowy River National Park. I was honoured to be appointed to the Incident Management Team (IMT), where I was the Ops & Plans Officer and latterly Logistics too. I was now at the heart of the operation, talking to the community leaders, emergency responders and, of course, those affected. This meant I had a greater influence on the support we were able to deliver but also greater responsibility to make best use of our resources and deliver assistance where it was most needed. In the middle of the week, the operation became even more international when we were boosted by the arrival of a contingent from Team Rubicon Norge. As well as boundless enthusiasm and an insatiable appetite for hard work they increased our chainsaw capacity which was crucial given our forested location.

My role in the IMT felt less impactful, as the feedback and sense of achievement was less direct than being ‘on the tools’ in a Strike Team. However it was equally satisfying as I knew that I was turning the stories of tragedy into practical help through my fellow Greyshirts. Australian country folk are extremely hard-working, resilient and very proud people but hesitant to ask for help so I knew when they did, they really needed it.I leave Australia knowing there is still so much to do and months, if not years, of recovery lie ahead of them but I leave with the comfort that I have contributed and made a difference, albeit a small one. I felt privileged to have been able to help and humbled by the resilience of the people I met and the communities I lived and worked with. It was the most fulfilling thing I have ever done and the experience will live with me forever as will the friends I made from Team Rubicon Australia and Team Rubicon Norge.


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