Bronya from the Blue Mountains
Hello my name is Bronya
My name is Bronya. I’m thirty-seven years old. I’ve been married for fifteen years and I have four children aged from nine to thirteen.
I was born in Westport which is on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. I lived there for seven years, and then shifted over to Christchurch with my family, and lived there until I was twenty-one. Then I married and came to Australia in ’98.
Windsor, NSW, was my home for the next four years and in the beginning of ’03, we moved to the Blue Mountains of NSW. I really enjoy being part of the Blue Mountains community.
My oldest daughter is thirteen. She’s always very reliable and a hard worker. Even with her homework, she just goes away into her room, and does it all herself which makes it very easy for me.
The next boy, is twelve, and he’s a bit of a different story, I suppose. He’d far rather be outside riding his bike and playing footy. But last week he cooked three meals for us on the barbecue. He cooked a pork stir-fry, hash browns, sausages and bacon, and lamb chops. So I was very pleased about that.
My other son is eleven. He probably takes after my side of the family more: he’s sort of a perfectionist. He doesn’t like change – he likes everything to be proper. He’s very diligent and does well at school.
My youngest girl is nine, and she’s the life of the family – if you want to differentiate between children. The way she thinks is very different. She’s very much a drama queen. If we have visitors here, or family around, she’ll go and do some sort of act or show, and keep everyone entertained and happy.
My husband is thirty nine. He has a business selling baby’s furniture and Childcare products around Australia.
I care for the household. I’m fully accredited in canteen operations too – which includes preparing dietary and cultural food, transporting and storing food, and food safety procedures, hygiene procedures, and receiving and storing kitchen supplies.
I use those skills in managing our school canteen. These skills came into use recently when I volunteered with the Rapid Relief Team (RRT) during the recent NSW bushfires and had to oversee the entire catering operation for the week at Lithgow.
On Volunteering with the Rapid Relief Team (RRT)
The fires here started on a Thursday. On Friday, we were told just to stay at home, and we’d be on call-out if we were needed. The schools were closed. It was a horrible hot and windy day. We couldn’t leave the house and it was very smoky outside. I was waiting for a call-out to go down to RRT, which was being set up. I wasn’t actually in the initial set-up part of it.
Nothing happened until 10.00pm I received a call to ask if I could come down to be on the breakfast team in the morning. I had to be there at 4:30am. My husband was at work, so I quickly rang him, and he said, yes, we’ll do it. I did wonder about getting my children looked after, and he said, No, it looks like it’s only going to be for breakfast, it will be good to give them the experience, we’ll take them. So at 4.00am that Saturday morning we got all the kids up, and went down to the showground at Lithgow. Because I had my catering qualification we ended up staying all day. I was given the job of overseeing the catering. We were absolutely flat out. It was a real eye-opener.
We were feeding the firemen, policemen and SES. There was a full canteen and separate serving area. The serving area was a big hall. We had a bain-marie serving area for food on one lot of tables, and then down one side were hot and cold drinks. At the very back of the room, we had tables set up for packaging the firemen’s takeaway lunches.
Sandwiches were all made by the Lions Club and were brought in every day. We packaged them up, along with fruit, sweet food and snack food, into a takeaway pack for lunch.
In the same building adjacent to the serving areas but in a separate room, there were sleeping quarters. I didn’t have anything to do with that as such. But that’s where the firefighters camped. There were around two hundred firefighters sleeping there but at the peak it reached to two hundred and fifty firefighters. It was a great big room full of stretchers. They did very well for what they had, but there was no privacy. You could only just walk between the beds. Their belongings were either under the stretchers or on top. And I think they just mainly, pretty much slept in their clothes. Then they’d come through and have their breakfast.
First thing we did each day was to pack hot breakfasts for Mt. Wilson and other outlying stations. We’d heat the Eskys up first with hot water, and then put the packaged food in, utensils and anything else that they might need. Once that was ready to be delivered, we’d serve the firemen. The ones who had slept overnight would come through at about 6:30am and want breakfast. Then straight away afterwards, about 7.00am, they’d come up wanting their lunch packs. So, if they hadn’t been done we were flat out doing those. We’d try to have them done the night before, ready for them to take in the morning. They’d put their lunches in cooler bags, so it would keep fresh, during the day. In the evenings I’d go and ask them for their bags, so we could reuse them. One time, I asked a firemen to return his cooler bag and he said to me, “Sure, if you want it.” He handed it to me, and it had been burnt.
When you’re working there, you sort of forgot about the fires. The smoke was outside, and we were inside preparing and thinking about food, food food. But seeing them come in, very red-eyed, smelling strongly of smoke and absolutely exhausted was a reminder of the reality of what they were doing.
What really struck me most was the unselfishness, absolute unselfishness, of the Rural Fire Service. They’re all volunteers, and they’re all unselfishly giving up their time for the community. We should be really inspired by them. It was a privilege, a total privilege to look after them. They were doing something that I couldn’t do.
One morning I got there as usual around 4.00am. I came in through the back kitchen door, and a security guard stopped me and said, “A lot of firefighters came in after midnight last night so try not to make too much noise.” And I looked out the door into the serving area, and there were firemen all lying on the floor in the serving hall. They must have come in from midnight onwards, this crew, and just found a place to lie down, and they were all soundly asleep.
There were loads of community help. One of the schoolteachers from the local school brought a whole pile of cards with messages and drawings that the kids had made for the firemen. She stuck them all round the hall to make it feel more like home for them. The Lithgow and Bathurst communities were excellent at donating. The local Baptist Church pastor, came to me on the second day, and said if there’s anything that I needed he would get his team together and provide it. I could ring him any time during the day, and within half an hour we’d have what we needed. Anything from water, eye drops, to cooler bags. One time we needed gluten free wraps, so I rang him up, and within twenty minutes he had them at the showground.
The Lithgow mayor came every day and helped serve the firemen. She talked to everyone. She would start doing radio and TV interviews at 6.00am but she still came down to the showground every day and spoke to the firemen, spoke to us, and helped serve food.
Each day there probably would have been around about fifty volunteer RRT people helping to cater for and accommodate the fire fighters. We had a breakfast team that came on at 4:30am, and they finished about 10.00am. Then we’d have what we called caretakers – people to just be there. Because all during the day we’d have firemen come in wanting a cup of tea or coffee or maybe to take a lunch pack.
As time went on we had people coming all the time with donations, and it became a full time job to thank them, write down who the donations were from, and then keep a count of it, store it, and so on. One day two market gardeners arrived with two trailers absolutely full of food. They had driven up from Sydney, to donate three thousand dollars’ worth of fruit and vegetables. Just incredible! We had to quickly get another cooler room to store it all in!
The tea crew would come on mid afternoon and we’d start cooking. We usually had the outlying station meals – between one and three hundred dinners – done and ready to go at 5:30pm. Then we’d serve the two to four hundred firemen who would come into the showground for their meal. Dinner went on until about 9.00pm. By 9:30pm we would start slowing down, tidying up for a midnight close. In total, we served up to eight hundred meals a day.
Volunteering at the RRT and helping the firefighters was a rewarding experience. Helping others is always worthwhile and I’d love to do that again, if I had the opportunity.
One of our goals is to set up a catering base for the RRT in a shed at the back of our house. We live on acreage, and have a farm shed up the back, and I really want to set that up as a full canteen operation where we can package up food and drinks effectively when our assistance is needed.
A Day in the Life
I get up early, I pray, and read the Bible. Then I start preparing for the day.
I always organise a menu for the whole week. I work out what we’re going to have for meals each day and write out a shopping list.
My day revolves around the school. I run the canteen, organise school buses and do fundraising projects.
After school the kids are my priority. After dinner each night we go to church. And then it’s home and bedtime.
On Being a Member of the PBCC
I’m a member of the Plymouth Brethren Church because I wholeheartedly believe in Christianity. I value the Christian faith, which is held rightly here. It’s a safe environment to keep my family and my children together. Christianity is based on the family, it is a practical matter. The Plymouth Brethren Church has a wonderful system of care, and there’s a wonderful atmosphere and wonderful safety.
In the wider community most parents if not all would want to bring their family up in a safe environment, this is becoming increasingly difficult in the world today. Amongst the Brethren it’s a safe place; there is a lot of love shown.