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Footscray SES celebrating 50th anniversary

Published 29/04/2013

“The only way to know why we’re here is to know what’s come before,” says Faye Bendrups.

Ms Bendrups is Controller of Victoria State Emergency Service’s (SES) Footscray Unit. The group is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, which has her thinking a great deal about the past, and why it matters today.

Footscray SES started life as a unit of the Victoria Civil Defence Unit in 1962, ahead of the formalisation of Victoria SES in 1975.

During that time there have been a lot of volunteers through the doors, united almost solely by a desire to help their community in times of crisis. As well as their primary role assisting the cities of Melbourne and Maribyrnong, volunteers have always been ready to step up and offer assistance anywhere in Australia.

It’s no easy task: Footscray volunteers have served on the frontlines of some of the biggest disasters both at home and across Australia, including the Westgate Bridge Collapse, the Russell Street bombing, Ash Wednesday, Black Saturday and Cyclone Tracy.

Volunteer members of SES Footscray are not unique in this. Volunteers at SES Doncaster, also celebrating its 50th year, along with the 30-year-old Brimbank Unit and others across Australia, are all undertaking such vital, trying work in all weather conditions and at all hours.

The value of Footscray SES transcends the accomplishments of any one member. Denis Brain, the unit’s current longest serving volunteer, has been on deck for more than 40 years, but even this impressive stretch doesn’t reach back to the beginning.

To Ms Bendrups’ mind, it’s for this reason that the unit’s history is so important.

“Our anniversary is an accomplishment of the Service and the good that it has done,” she says.

“Without knowing that history, the changes we’ve been through and the achievements we’ve made, it wouldn’t be here. Our newer members don’t have that background, so it’s very important that we can share it with them.

“It’s not about what we have achieved; it’s about what the unit has achieved; what the Service has achieved.”

By the same token, it is the efforts of the unit’s members over its 50-year history that have made it into such a force for good in the community. Without volunteers willing to sacrifice their time to safeguard that of their neighbours, the Service wouldn’t exist.

“We have calculated a conservative estimate of time served by Footscray volunteers over this period and it amounts to around half a million hours!” Ms Bendrups says.

It’s not something that has been missed by the community.

“The public has been very, very supportive,” Ms Bendrups says.

“They are a receptive, appreciative community. We have received lots of positive feedback. We’ve had a really dynamic interest in the unit and people wanting to join this year.

“Of course we face the same challenges as every volunteer organisation; people’s private lives are very busy and they don’t have the free time they did two or three decades ago.”

The unit features 24 fully operational members at present, with another six joining soon and new intake planned for May 20. Volunteers hail from a variety of backgrounds and communities, reflecting the make-up of the surrounding population.

As well as operational duties that keep it busy every week, the unit is active in community engagement and is working towards visiting every community group in their area to let them know what SES does and how they can keep safe.

Mr Brain is also working to compile artefacts from the unit’s history in the hopes of putting them on display to coincide with the anniversary.

SES Footscray’s 50th Anniversary will be celebrated with a dinner at Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday 4 May.