By Phil Cheney – July 26 1017
Ladies and Gentlemen, Val Jeffery dedicated much of his life to the Volunteer Bushfire Brigade movement; I spent my working like doing research into bushfire behaviour and management.
My first boss, Alan McArthur, insisted that if I was to really know about bushfires I needed to talk to country people; people who knew the bush, people whose livelihood was threatened by bushfire, people who dedicated much of their lives protecting their community from bushfires.
Val Jeffery was one of those people.
Val was a foundation member of the Tharwa bushfire brigade in the late 1950’s and represented the ACT bushfire brigades on the ACT Bushfire Council. In 1978 he became Chairman of the Bushfire Council.
I joined the Council in 1979 and we worked together over the next 12 years.
As chairman, Val instigated important reforms. He pushed through a revision of the ACT Bushfires Act and had the Council and the ACT represented on the Australian Fire Authorities Council.
He was efficient. Buisness started on time and had to be completed by 1230. Then Val, Cliff Parsons the Chief Fire Control Officer, and I would retire to the Tuggie Palace for a long lunch and, if needed, sort out how we were going to fix the really important problems.
We continued our luncheons with a select group, off and on, up until early this year when he became ill. And of course we talked about bushfires.
A highlight for me was the biennial inspection of the fire trails and fuels across the ACT with Val and Cliff where I came to appreciate his knowledge of the bush, and people in the rural fire community.
In later years, changes in bushfire management in the ACT weighed heavily on Val. The increasing influence of bureaucracy; the closure of the mountain forests and the fire trail network; the lack of maintenance of fire trails that were retained; the abandonment of the fuel reduction programs in the mountain forests that we pioneered in the late 1960’s and put into practice in the 70’s.
This came to head on the 17th January 2003 when emergency management was so bad that Val ignored the directions of the Rural Fire Service not to and organised his brigade to burn a break around the Village of Tharwa to help protect it from the firestorm that he knew would come the next day.
It was only after the Canberra fires that I learned the Val and I shared something else other than an interest in bushfires, red wine and pretty basic Chinese food – a love of poetry and that Val was a gifted poet.
I conclude this valediction with the last three verses of his poem “Mans Cruelty to Nature” that he wrote in 2003 and reflects the sensitivity of a man who dedicated much of his life to protecting his community from bushfires.
City proud of trees amidst the homes, spread through the fields,
A place of pure bush-beauty should not expect such tragedy,
That thrust this town with vicious fear into a firebrand battlefield
Surely we were let down by such a feat of foolish travesty?
I wander now through black, bent, lonely, twisted trees,
Where as a child I savoured many misty moments here,
Still; eerie now, no urgent rustling movement through the leaves,
Fools have stolen sounds of chirping vibrant birds I held so dear.
Can the scars of gaping wicked wounds to nature’s precious folds,
Be ever salved and lessons learnt from man’s short sightedness,
Or will the blessed autumn rains bring life’s beauty to behold,
To hide human frailty beneath the newborn forest’s ruggedness?