Kester Baines (bio)
I worked on the Connors crew for four consecutive summers, from Dec 1968 – Feb 1969, then Jan-Feb 1970, ‘71 and ‘72, being a leading hand on the ‘71 crew and senior leading hand in ’72.
Our first fire was in the Buxton-Taggerty area, which started on the same day as the bad Lara fires (8 Jan 1969). We worked in the Black Range, Royston Range and Blue Range and were there for five days. All up we worked on 13 fires over the four summers, mostly lightning strikes in the high country, but one near Mt Roundback on Wilsons Prom was also quite large. But our first was the worst – it’s the only time I’ve been in a fire that was crowning at times. Scary!
John Wilson was our boss and he was a very strong and fit man. He was strict but fair and we got on well with him. Our cook was Peter Thomas.
Our vehicles were two 11 seat Dodge buses and a traybody Toyota LandCruiser. Once, after rounding up a lightning strike in the Macalister headwaters, we had only the Toyota to get us out. We had the entire crew and all our gear on that ute, no OH&S to worry about then, and it ground its way up the Butcher Country Spur track and never missed a beat. Incredible.
As you say, non-firefighting work was mostly seedcutting (alpine ash and a little shining gum), scrub cutting along roads, and equipment maintenance. You’d remember the time when, up on the Snowy Range, we helped with your Phoscheck drop-pattern experiments with the Twin Otter from Canada.