You would find it difficult to find a more diverse group than the volunteers at Victoria State Emergency Service (VICSES) Sorrento Unit.
Earlier this year the group witnessed 101 birthday candles blown out in one day as they celebrated the shared birthday of their eldest and youngest members. Mike Ringham turned 80, while Olivia Gregory turned 21.
Mike, who migrated from England in 1956 and became an Australian citizen in 1964, is one of the few VICSES volunteers his age to remain “fully operational”, that is, he continues to take part in his unit’s operational activities such as cutting up storm-damaged trees with a chainsaw and laying sandbags.
He has been a member of VICSES for four years. It’s the latest in a long line of community organisations that he given his time to. He spent seven years as secretary of the Probus Club of Essendon City, where he also did stints as assistant secretary and newsletter editor.
He was volunteer scorer for the Melbourne Cricket Club for many years (1975-2005) where he remains the statistician. In 2001 he was one of only 19,000 recipients of the Australian Sporting Medal, struck to recognise voluntary sporting administrators at the turn of the millennium. He is also a member of Cricket Victoria’s 200 Club.
Mike first encountered VICSES in 2001, when volunteers visited his Probus Club to discuss their duties. He’s fond of telling that story, wherein he asked how he could help VICSES to be told by a volunteer that he was too old.
“You know,” Mike said, “I was reminiscing about that day with one of the club members and he asked me how I managed to get in to VICSES in 2011 when I as too old in 2001?”
Mike would encounter VICSES again when a unit came to his house to sort out a tree that had fallen on a fence in his yard. That meeting was a different story – a volunteer asked how he would be keeping busy as a new arrival to the suburb and the rest was history.
His training record alone puts to rest any thought of his age being a barrier. He has received accreditation in a diverse range of topics including chainsaw operation, first aid, land search, safety and road crash rescue. A chief focus of his is community engagement, and he has trained and worked as both a community education facilitator and a media liaison for the service.
Mike said his time with VICSES continued to be enormously satisfying. “We are volunteers and we are there for the benefit of the community. That’s why I joined,” he said.
Olivia joined Sorrento VICSES at the start of 2014, when a break from university study afforded her the time. “I joined because I was looking for something to get me involved in the community” she said.
“I like feeling part of something that’s so helpful and appreciated in the community. It’s a great way to meet other people and give back to others.”
Both Mike and Olivia agree that Sorrento VICSES was a great team.
“The unit is a great place to be around,” Olivia said. “I look forward to coming down on training nights. Everyone is lovely and more than happy to help any way they can.”
Mike said the team worked well together. “There is rarely a shortage of people putting their hand up when a call for assistance goes out” he said.
Mike found it hard to pin down a favourite memory of his time with VICSES. One frontrunner was when he asked a class of kindergarteners if any of them were scared of thunder, and one pointed out their mum, who was in the audience and quickly embarrassed.
“Probably the proudest moment was a recent Friday when we helped with the Good Friday Appeal. We started at eight in the morning and had to stop at 2.30pm because we had literally no rook left to collect money. Our final tally was more than $6,000.”
Olivia, meanwhile, was confident her best memories with the service were yet to come.