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Central West Queensland since 1923
Central West Queensland

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23 September, 2020

Neil's decade of volunteer emergency service

DEPUTY group leader of the Longreach State Emergency Service (SES), Neil Fraser, celebrates 10 years of volunteer service as a part of the local association.

By Hamish Hart

Community service…Longreach SES deputy group leader, Neil Fraser, feels he is ready to pass his decade of volunteer service on to local youth.

The 73-year-old has been an active member of Longreach SES since 2010, involving himself heavily in community events such as the annual Fire Trials and Outback Paddle Regatta Festival.

Mr Fraser returned to Australia in 2009 and, at the age of 62, found it difficult to get used to the Outback culture after spending nearly 40 years in the Philippines.

“I was newly back in Australia and ended up in Longreach as my son was working here,” Mr Fraser said. “From using credit cards to ATMs, everything was new to me when I returned.

“I think my re-introduction to the Australian culture after a long period away helped me recognise the opportunities in joining SES. I went along to a couple of meetings just to see if I would like the group, and I’ve been there ever since.

“This was at a stage when I had to re-learn how Australians interacted with one another. Because I was away for so long, I sat quietly for a few years.”

Despite the initial learning curve, Mr Fraser said he had no regrets due to the abundance of friends he made in SES.

“What I love most is the group itself,” he said. “We do have a transition of people over the years, but you tend to get through and back each other up, and you spend a lot of time together in life-threatening situations. You come to rely on each other.

“I love the balance of people and personalities. They are my closest friends and they are well-respected.”

Mr Fraser said his most memorable callout was when 18-year-old Sam Woodhead, a British backpacker, went missing on February 12, 2013, from Upshot Station, 130km south-west of Longreach.  

Woodhead drank his own urine and other fluids to survive the 40-degree heat of Outback Queensland before a search helicopter located him three days later. He suffered severe dehydration and suspected kidney damage.

“We were called out for two days, just walking and searching,” Mr Fraser said. “On the second day a person next to me collapsed and cramped up.

“More searches occurred and the victim was found at the end of day two. We didn’t think that would be the case.”

Mr Fraser has been a part of many rescue operations over the past 10 years, but said this particular search stood out above the rest, even with the resurgence of SES callouts earlier this year.

“The community does call, but not as often as you’d expect,” he said. “However, early this year, we were called out six times in three months, but then at other times you may not receive a call in a year.”

Local Controller for Longreach SES, Diesel Stenholm, praised Neil for his decade-long tenure as a part of the group.

“Neil always gives 110 per cent at training and in the event of activation,” Mr Stenholm said. “He readily shares the skills he has learnt with the newer members of our group.

“Neil is always ready to help the community. His wealth of life experiences and skills are valued by his fellow volunteers, and he is highly respected by the group for his contributions, and his kind and caring personal qualities.

“Thank you Neil for completing 10 years of volunteer service for your role as Deputy Group Leader within the Longreach SES.”

As he contemplates retirement from the volunteer group, Mr Fraser challenged members of the community, particularly youth, to follow in his footsteps.

“You have to move on in any profession and I should be moving on,” he said. “We’ve been through a slow membership period and there’s constant change, but I’m looking forward to seeing new members take on my role in the future.

“I’d particularly like to see our youth do something with their life beyond making a living or worrying about their own concerns. I’d like them to challenge themselves by doing something for others, and the SES is a good thing for that.

“Thank you Longreach SES, from the ones who have passed through, to the ones who are gone. It’s been one of my favourite chapters here in Longreach.”

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