Rotary Club of Alexandra Fencing Team at Sugarloaf Station
Dandongadale is in North East Victoria’s high country, south of Myrtleford, about as remote as you can get! Sugarloaf Station is just below Mt Sugarloaf on the Buffalo River, in a beautiful setting in the wild country of the Buffalo Valley. Mal and Di Taylor own the property.
The call to help the Taylor’s came through Rotary District 9790. BlazeAid had been contacted but were not able to provide helpers. BlazeAid provided some donated fencing materials, which were transported to the Taylor’s and two neighbouring farms by DELWP. It was a good team effort with Rotary taking a leading role.
Rotarians Ian Gibb from Rotary Club of Alexandra and Bruce Walker from Rotary Club of Benalla visited the station for a ‘reccy’.  Ian and Bruce had been part of fencing teams working around Corryong earlier in the year. Sugarloaf Station’s boundary fencing was destroyed in last summer’s bushfires, but this property had not been able to be assisted by any teams since then. Their cattle had scattered into the high country, fending for themselves. Malcolm and Di had managed to fence some parts of the property by themselves but with only the two of them it was very slow progress.
Ian and Bruce proposed a fencing team to visit Sugarloaf Station over four days to assist with boundary fencing. A small pilot team from Rotary Club of Alexandra was organized. Ross Thompson and John Cannon volunteered to join Ian and it was set up as a Rotary Club of Alexandra project.
The countryside is now green, a far cry from the devastation of the bushfires which raged through the heavily forested property in January! Their fences were damaged and the cattle wandered off into the bush to fend for themselves for the last six months.
Recently they cattle began returning home. About fifty cattle had returned by the time we arrived and Mal and Di were concerned about Indi, their favourite cow, who was due to calve at any moment but was not to be found. It was a real worry as she was a very special cow they had hand-raised – and she was usually boss cow of the herd.
Big Red, a venerable Toyota troop carrier, is amazing! She has done over one and a half million kilometers and still going strong!
We hopped in Big Red with Kya the labrador. Di drove. Mal drove ahead on the tractor. We forded the Buffalo River then loaded the trailer with wire and fencing gear. Mal picked up concrete posts plus a couple of gates on the forklift of his tractor and led the way up into the hills.
We bounced and jerked our way over uneven terrain, through boggy stretches, along fence-lines, up and down steep inclines, through a difficult creek crossing, climbing ever higher till we reached the back of the property, the trailer bouncing along behind.
It was evident that Mal and Di had done a huge amount of fencing themselves over the last six months, but they really needed help to have secure boundary fencing around the entire property to keep their cattle home. Our task was to tackle long stretches of heavily damaged boundary fencing.
There were burnt trees wherever you looked! Mal had moved many of the fallen trees into piles for later burning; ‘pick-up-sticks’, he called it. For the first couple of days we worked high up at the back of the property alongside a road bordering the National Park. On the first day the weather was cold but fine and progress was good. We worked as a team straightening posts, replacing a smashed corner post brace, replacing electric fence wires and some insulators and adding three strands of barbed wire. We also installed posts and braces for two new gates.
New wire needed for Rotary Fence'
 Overnight it snowed on the hills around us. It was difficult to get back to our work site.
The road to the top was slippery. We installed the gates and continued working on the next stretch until lunchtime. As we worked snow drifted down on us. We completed that stretch of fence but the track had become too wet and dangerous to continue at that location, so we moved to a different section of the boundary.
Kangaroo Hill fence was somewhat easier to access, winding in and out the trees, many dead, most struggling to recover with green epicormic fuzz growing along their trunks, to a long stretch of badly damaged boundary.
 It was straight-line fencing through up and down steep country. Much of the wire was re-useable when it was untangled. Ross was brilliant at that.
A couple of large trees had fallen across the fence. Mal manned the chainsaw to cut and remove enough to clear the fence. Some strands of wire were able to be joined with a ‘figure 8 knot’, some were replaced with new wire. Three strands of new barbed wire were run out and attatched. We worked section to section, from strainer post to strainer post.
For most sections the posts were still there.
Many posts needed straightening. A few were broken and needed a new post driven in alongside to support them. Most of the wire was still there, much of it  Lots of wire needed untangling, then rethreading through the insulators, rejoining and straining up.
We continued working on this boundary on our final day.
“The job isn’t complete though.” Ian said. “We have contacted other farmers in the same area who also need help. This area appears to be a pocket that has been missed by the bushfire effort elsewhere.”
A Phase 2 Rotary expedition is being planned for October depending on Covid 19 restrictions.
John Cannon
Rotary Club of Alexandra