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Maleny SES Turns 20 years

THE MALENY STATE EMERGENCY VOLUNTEER GROUP REACHES 20 YEARS OF SERVICE TO THE MALENY AREA.   As with most organisations necessity is the mother of invention.   The forming of the Maleny State Emergency Group in 1981 was no different.   One could say that it all started with a nasty black looking sky and a sudden windstorm accompanied by strong winds and what happened next is history.

At the end of the storm there was a house - roofless - the roof being deposited some two hundred metres down the paddock.   With darkness fast approaching there was a dilemma what to do to stop further damage being caused to the contents of this home as it appeared that the storm was to return.   A solution of sort was found after much searching and inquiring.

What did come out of this particular incident was a move by a number of concerned people in the Maleny community to attempt to provide some help in similar circumstances in the future.    As a result a meeting was held at the Maleny State School and a large number of people attended and as a result it was decided to form a State Emergency Service Volunteer Group. Lloyd Larney became the first Group Leader and local school teacher, Vince Carbery the Deputy.

The first meetings were held at the Maleny State School with the good will of the school community, in fact a number of teachers initially joined the group.    Scott Battersby, one of the teachers went on to be a long serving member of the group and eventually became First Officer of the Maleny Volunteer Rural Fire Brigade which was a sister organisation formed under the branch of the State Emergency Services Department.
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First things first though.   The beginnings were very elementary and equipment was scarce and as a result local businesses came to the front offering assistance.    George Moffitt of Moffitts Garage, for the newer members of the community George was a well-known local character who helped everyone.    He ran a garage where Maleny Rural Traders previously operated.    George had a great array of equipment that could be used in many situations and he was always ready to put his equipment at the disposal of the group.

Another stalwart of the group was then local ambulance officer now deceased, Ron Keleher.    Ron had been in the area since the dinosaurs disappeared and he knew everybody and how to get everywhere.

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At about this time, 1982 there was a series of bush searches and rescues around the area.   Tourists appeared to find places that they should never find and they explored those places - often to their own peril and subsequent peril of local rescue teams.   In this initial time it was always "Moffie" who provided the transport as he had a new 4 wheel drive vehicle.
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Kondalilla Falls and the Obi-Obi Gorge were places of numerous rescue missions.     Most of them ended happily but on a couple of occasions endings were sorrowful events.    Early 1982 saw five or six rescue missions in that area.  On one occasion a woman and three young people rode through the gorge on tyre tubes after there had been heavy rainfall.    They became stuck and spent a night in the gorge before being found by a search team and subsequently being lifted out the following day by helicopter.

Within a few days a Melbourne woman became stuck in the same area also attempting to float through the gorge on a tyre tube.    Becoming frightened of the fast flowing water so left the gorge and attempted to walk out but became lost.    She too was found the following day by a search team of SES members led by Sergeant Les Fawkes Officer in Charge of Maleny police.    This became the pattern of the workload of the group for some time.

As earlier indicated not all the searches ended happily.   Again in early 1982 an elderly woman was killed when she fell over Kondalilla falls whilst it was in flood.    She fell about 80 metres.      Police and SES volunteers had the unenviable job of retrieving the body from the bottom of the falls.    These were early days of the now famous Energex Rescue Helicopter service.

During this time the Maleny SES group had attempted to get funding for much needed equipment.   This proved a difficult task.   Through contacts in the State Emergency Service Department it was learned that there were some ex-government 4 wheel drive vehicles coming up for resale.   Unfortunately there was no Santa Clause to be found so some members of the group guaranteed the payment for one of the vehicles and this was the start of the group gaining some equipment of its own.

Meetings were by now being held at the disused Maleny butter factory where there was some storage area for equipment - something that was not possible at the Maleny school.   The then Caloundra Shire Council allowed the group to store equipment and have meetings at the Maleny

Council Depot in Palm Street, Maleny.
Here the group had its first real home.   In early 1984 an incident occurred in the Booloumba Falls area of the Conondale Ranges when a male adult and 10 youths became disorientated.    The male person lost his footings on a steep wet hillside and plunged down a bushy ridge and into a pool at the bottom.

(Photo Above - Police & SES discuss options during a bush search for lost bushwalkers)

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This male person, weighing about 20 stone was unable to get out of the creek bottom so took shelter in a cave.    His companions made their way back to Maleny where they raised the alarm.

A search through the night was made very difficult by the darkness, rugged terrain and the wet weather.    The following morning the male person was located in a very cold and uncomfortable condition.

In the same area only some weeks later a daring rescue of a seriously ill man became a milestone for the Maleny SES group.    It is important to go into some detail so that the community can understand the dedication and effort that volunteers go to in an effort to help fellow Australians.    This rescue did turn out with a very happy ending but tragedy was only a breath away at any time.      That is not to say that volunteers go into their duty without weighing up the possible risks as individual safety is paramount at all times, however it does not matter how much planning, consideration or preparation one takes Murphy's Law can still come into play at the wrong time.    A 25 year old man was knocked unconscious after diving from a waterfall into a pool not far from the previous rescue.    The area commonly known as the "Breadknife" is very isolated, rugged and difficult country.

Photo left (SES Volunteer member abseiling down a cliff face to rescue an injured climber)

The man's friends had dragged the unconscious man onto a rock before going for help.    As is the norm these things always happen at night in the most difficult locations.

A number of Maleny SES personnel travelled to the scene then had to hike into the area carrying a large amount of equipment.    It was very dark, wet and under the circumstances - dangerous.    On arriving at the location it was quickly ascertained that the male person was still alive but still unconscious.    It was apparent that he had internal injuries and most likely spinal injuries.

Immediately the patient was stabilised and precautions taken to ensure that further injury did not occur.   How to get this person out of the area alive was now a serious consideration.    Les Fawkes in discussion with Group Leader Lloyd Larney, who had had extensive experience with helicopters during his time in the RAAF as a helicopter engineer decided to get the State Government helicopter to fly to the area and land in a clearing some distance away.   The helicopter would bring a medical evac team from the Royal Brisbane Hospital.    As difficult as it was contact was subsequently made with Mr. Athol Jury,   the government helicopter pilot, also an ex-RAAF pilot.    This subsequently became very important as both the pilot and Lloyd Larney knew ground to air communications without a radio.    Because of the terrain radios did not work in the area.     The plan was to carry the injured man to the clearing for evacuation.

Initially the clearing was not large enough for the helicopter to land so it was necessary to enlarge the landing ground.   With the use of lights the helicopter was guided into the clearing and a very snug landing was made.   The pilot on foot made an examination of the area and it was decided that it was possible to actually fly up the gorge and fly in under the tree canopy and fly along the gorge under the canopy, hover with one helicopter skid on the top of the falls, load the patient and then make a 180 degree turn and fly out the same way.

A different radio system, brought into the area with the helicopter was to be used from the ground to assist in directing the pilot under the canopy and along the gorge as his view would be obscured in places. (Photo right - Lloyd Larney)

Following medical examination the medical retrieval team were most satisfied with the preparatory work carried out by the SES group - so much so that they did not even have to readjust the stretcher support of the patient.

Using ropes and other equipment the special stretcher was subsequently carefully manhandled to the top of the waterfalls. This in itself was a difficult job and took some time. It did not help at all that the waterfall was slippery and dark. When the patient was at the top of the falls the helicopter pilot did his thing. He took off from his difficult position in the small clearing.

((Photo Above:-This time only a demonstration flight but this is the same Squirrel State Emergency Service helicopter flown by Government pilot, Athol Jury on the night of a rescue at The Breadknife, west of Kenilworth.))

He flew over the gorge and found a position where the canopy was open enough for him to access the gorge.   Murphy's Law now comes into play.    A stiff breeze suddenly springs up.   This adds some difficulty to the situation as the pilot now has to allow for uncontrolled movement of the helicopter by the strong breeze.   The strong wind was not evident when the helicopter gets into the line of the canopy of the trees.    This was caused by that area being protected from the higher winds.    This created a situation where the pilot could easily over compensate for entry through the clearing in the canopy.     This would have had a catastrophic effect.

Several attempts were made to get under the canopy. It was subsequently decided that it might not be possible to complete the task.     At the last moment the wind died down and the pilot brought the helicopter under the canopy.    He was now committed as he could not turn around so he had to continue to the falls to get a safe place to turn.     Once under the canopy radio contact between the ground party and the aircraft was again lost - Murphy's Law again.     It was here that a quick thinking Lloyd Larney assembled the SES members at the head of the falls with torches in specific locations to guide the pilot.    This procedure was an established communication procedure in the R.A.A.F.

The pilot did in fact bring his aircraft to the head of the waterfall safely and made a 90 degree turn with only a few feet to spare.    He placed one skid on the top of the waterfall and one of the medical team in the aircraft placed her foot on the ledge outside the aircraft to begin to take the weight of the stretcher as it was slid into the aircraft.     She lost her footing and began to slip over the falls.     On each side at the head of the stretcher were Sergeant Les Fawkes and Lloyd Larney.    Other members were around the stretcher and helping to edge it into the aircraft when this happened.     Both members at the head of the stretcher instinctively grabbed towards the medical team member and pulled her back.    One having hold only of her hair.   She regained her footing and the patient was successfully placed into the aircraft.   The pilot made another 90 degree turn and flew back along the gorge under the canopy to where he had entered and flew back out.

This part of the rescue mission took only minutes but to the members there it felt like hours.    The stone face of the pilot looking steadfast at the front concentrating on his job is forever imprinted in one's mind.    One mistake on his part had the ability to create a tragedy, not only for those on the aircraft but those who were on the ground as they operated only a few feet under the aircraft rotors.

Each of those members who took part on that night will remember that rescue for the rest of their lives.   Each will remember something different depending on the part played by them but every member played not only an important but essential part in this successful rescue.

The patient did in fact have a fractured spinal cord.   A wrong decision in respect to the treatment and extrication of the patient could have had serious implications for him.    He did in fact slowly improve his health and returned to normal life.

The following day the helicopter team re-visited the site to clearly understand what they had achieved.   They too were amazed at the difficulty and complexity of the task that had been successfully carried out.

Every member of the team on that night can justifiably be proud of the part they played.

Following this incident momentum gathered and the S.E.S. members doubled their efforts to ensure that they were well equipped.    Service clubs in the area provided some much needed equipment and thus the groups were able to expand their skills.

There then was a period where the weather turned the area into a dangerous fire ground and the tasks became more fire orientated.

The Group now saved for and equipped an ex-army International 4 wheel drive truck specifically for the purpose of fire fighting.    This truck provided splendid service in some very rugged areas for well over a decade when it too became the victim of Murphy's Law at the scene of a fire where it received considerable damage.    It was not economic to repair and this truck has since been decommissioned.   It was a sentimental favourite of some members although it could be a bitch to drive in some of the situations that it found itself.    That truck is now back in service on a local farm where it will end its days.

There was a period in 1991 when the area was covered with fires and that culminated in the Beerwah fires.    These fires did considerable damage to the pine forests in the Beerwah area along with damage to bridges and buildings.  This time of community danger again showed the ability and the determination of the emergency service groups - especially the volunteers.     This period required many hours to be spent at numerous fires around the area.    Many were lit by local residents and they subsequently got away and others were as a resullt of natural causes. Again many community members came to the fore in providing valuable equipment and knowledge.    Water tankers were regularly provided by Ron Hankinson and Rod Wild.    They were available at any time and on many occasions they had turned away their own work to be available in times of need.

Community members owe much to people like them who unselfishly give their time and equipment.

Many stories can be told about Fraser Skerman and his side kick, Ray Lucas who were always too ready to provide their four wheel drive tractors to push fire breaks and assist with back burning.    Working away slowly but patiently they covered a lot of area at the fire-face reducing the amount of fuel available to the fire.

Had it not been for the many heroic efforts put in by members of those groups the damage and possibility of loss of life could have been greater.

Many tales could be told about this period but we will leave that for another day.

Many local businesses and all the service clubs put in a lot of effort to ensure that desperately needed equipment was available.    Following one particularly horrific accident at Witta in which a female passenger was seriously injured.   She was trapped in the car for almost two hours whilst special equipment was brought from the coast to assist in extricating her from the crumpled car.    She subsequently died whilst being transported to Nambour hospital by helicopter.     Local medico Dr. Greg Wren called on the community to put together some basic extrication equipment to be on hand at Maleny.

Within a few short months approximately $60,000 was raised within the community and the necessary equipment was handed to the Queensland Fire Service for use in the Maleny and near area.    Fire Officer Laurie Benecke and his crew soon became expert in its use.     This equipment unfortunately has been used on numerous occasions and a number of local residents owe if not their lives then their physical health to the use of this equipment.

In fact members of the Fire Service and Maleny State Emergency Service are undergoing continuing training in the use of the equipment so that a continuing band of trained personnel remain available at short notice to attend to serious accidents.

During this period another feat of herculean nature took place in Maleny with the State Emergency Service volunteers leading from the front.

Having a quiet cool drink one afternoon a local councillor for Maleny, Winston Johnstone asked some gathered Show Society volunteer members and State Emergency Service volunteers, "Do you think that we could build a garage here in the show-grounds."  "Yes."   Was the unanonymous reply - not thinking of the extent of that Councillor's dreams.

That started a saga of the building of the shed now commonly known as the SES-Show Society Cattle pavilion in the Maleny Show-grounds.   That also is a story for another time.

Photos show various stages of construction of the SES shed by volunteers. An incredible job completed for the Maleny community.

(Photo left shows Kevin, Brian, Ron Keleher -now dec)


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In 1994 State Emergency Service volunteers showed that they assist the community in other ways when they assisted police with bush and river searches after two bodies were found in the Mary River at Conondale.    The bodies were dumped as a result of a bizarre double murder that was subsequently found to be drug related.

Bush searches again were the order of the day after the disappearance of two women in the Conondale Forest area in the late 1990's.    The tasks handled by State Emergency Service Volunteers range over a wide list.

These incidents are but a couple of the many attended to by members of the Maleny State Emergency Service over the past 20 years.    This group, like many others throughout Australia carry on a tradition of assisting fellow Australians in their time of need.   Volunteers are as the word suggests are unpaid for their time.    They do it for the good of their community.

On the evening of March 24th, 2002 a presentation was made to Lloyd Larney, Group Leader of the Maleny Group by Ms Jenny Millar, Regional Operations Manager for the Queensland Emergency Service.    Where else could this presentation take place but in the SES shed where many of the original members met for a steak and a few coolies whilst they talked over old times.

Congratulations to the Maleny State Emergency Service Group for reaching the 20 year milestone.

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