Backtrack Recovery Team rolls up its sleeves following Tenterfield fires


An Armidale based youth service is using specialist training to help rural landholders rebuild following natural disasters, with the BackTrack Response Team put to its first formal test following bushfires in the Tenterfield Local Government Area this year.

Backtrack Response Team, Tenterfield NSW.

Since the Black Summer bushfires in 2029/20 BackTrack, an organisation which supports vulnerable and disengaged young people, has provided support to disaster impacted rural landholders to rebuild farm fences, feed stock and get back on their feet.

After identifying a need for this service, BackTrack began developing a formal training program to give students the practical skills to safely support communities after fires and floods.

BackTrack General Manager Steve Bramley said the organisation’s approach is about being there for the long-haul – well after the emergency services have gone home.

“The priority is being ready for anything,” Mr Bramley said.

“Using funding from the Australian and NSW Governments, we were able to put a team of 30 young people through their first aid ticket, general construction induction card (white card), chainsaw operation and traffic control training.”

“Just seeing everyone smile and be thankful for you just showing up and giving a hand, you get really proud of yourself knowing you have made a difference.”Luke Rankine, Backtrack team member.

“The immediate need for one farmer might be that they need to get feed to stock, their fences might be down, water might be out because the water system is buggered, or the dam has been drained by the Rural Fire Service.”

Utilising their networks within local government and the community, the BackTrack Response Team can be mobilised at any time.

In September 2024, their new skills were put to the test for the first time when fires swept through the Tenterfield local government area, burning more than 35,000 hectares.

BackTrack arrived the morning after the fire front abated, assisting farmers in the Bluff Rock area.

Luke Rankine was one of the BackTrack team members first on the fire-ground.

“Securing stock fences and wrangling livestock was our priority,” Mr Rankine said.

“With our two mounted 600-litre firefighting units (also purchased using Government funding), we were also able to support the NSW Rural Fire Service with mopping up spot fires. This allowed them to redirect assets to other areas more in need.”

“We had the skills and were ready for anything that was asked of us.”

As part of the training program, eight participants have been put through the Rural Fire Service training. Four of those are now qualified volunteers and boosting the ranks of the Enmore RFS Brigade, near Armidale

Jan Styles, from the small village of Torrington in Northern NSW, knows all too well the long-lasting impact BackTrack’s recovery work can have.

In 2019, bushfires destroyed fourteen structures in the former tin mining area, including three homes and several historic tenements.

“Friends lost homes and our community’s heritage was turned to ashes,” Ms Styles said.

In the immediate aftermath, it was a team from BackTrack who arrived to help with the recovery.

“They aided local farmers to rebuild fences, the elderly clean-up their properties – it was what the immediate need was at the time,” she said.

“These young people camped in the local hall. They worked with care and worked non-stop for more than a month, giving 200%.”

Having the skills to help those in need has given Luke Rankine and his colleagues a sense of worth.

“Just seeing everyone smile and be thankful for you just showing up and giving a hand, you get really proud of yourself knowing you have made a difference,” Mr Rankine said.

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