A New Year's Eve like no other!

By Justin Kell 
about  Yourka Reserve  
on 10 Feb 2015 
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Coming from Goulburn in NSW, my partner YiQing and I thought that a tropical Far North Queensland get away might be a wonderful way to bring in the 2015 New Year. We arrived on Boxing Day at the home of Leanne and Paul Hales (and their beautiful children) before setting out the next morning for our working adventure on Bush Heritage’s Yourka Reserve.

On arrival at 'The Shed' we completed and signed off on our volunteer and safety induction. Immediately we saw that this truly was going to be a home away from home. We even had a washing machine! The Shed has a large screened in verandah area that overlooks a billabong on Sunday Creek. We decided that this was a great spot for the camp beds and the decision was rewarded the next morning by a dawn chorus of birdlife.

After as much reconnaissance as you can undertake on a 43,000 ha property in a half day, we headed ‘home’ after we took in a swim in the ‘gorge’ and sunset at the lookout. This experience had already garnered in us feelings of gratefulness and privilege while we sat and contemplated that Yourka was ours to tend to for the week ahead.

That night while I was perusing my list of maintenance jobs for the week, I received a call from Paul who had driven home after the reconnaissance. He advised us he was coming up the next day to check on a neighboring prescribed burn.

The next morning Paul’s inspection of the property was followed very promptly with a phone call to Leanne as the fires were more intense than expected and he needed her help at Yourka.

Paul had arranged for the National Parks fire crews to help them with controlling the fires so YiQing and I had the pleasure of being the meeters, greeters and directioners for the National Park staff who arrived at the Shed while Paul and Leanne were busy at the fire front.

All of these people, including Paul and Leanne, had given up their holidays to help out. The camaraderie amongst us all was palpable and New Year’s Eve saw Leanne host an incredible dinner for 10 and all of us had such a memorable night. Not in my wildest imaginings could I have ever foreseen my New Year’s celebrations ending up like this!

By New Year’s Day afternoon, the lightning and thunderstorms that had been threatening for the past 3 days had finally broken and had brought rain. Although it was pouring at the shed, the fire front 15km away saw little of the deluge. Over the next day or so the other firefighters retreated home as Paul was satisfied the fire was under control. But as is his way, he’d stayed another night, “Just to make sure”.

Paul’s untiring efforts, early mornings and very late nights in order to control the fire can’t be overstated. His understanding of what had to be done and his ability to do it with limited assistance, has given me a greater respect for the Bush Heritage Reserve Managers and their staff. Can you believe that Leanne even apologised to us for the inconvenience?! She’s always thinking about what’s best for the volunteers.

On reflection, Yourka was a wonderful experience for us both. I didn’t know what to expect going into this volunteer opportunity but certainly I never imagined having such an incredible time. What was expected to be an intimate New Year’s Eve turned out to be a 'party at the Yourka Shed' not to be missed.

Thank you Paul and Leanne for everything, we can't speak highly enough of your contribution to our experience.

Justin Kell and YiQing Jin

Yourka 27/12/2014 – 1/1/2015

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