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Ranger stares down wall of fire in award-winning photo

Stephanie Gardiner -

In the middle of Arnhem Land, there are no bright red fire trucks or water-bombing planes.

When a bushfire takes hold in the wilderness of the Northern Territory's north east corner, Indigenous rangers often fly in with little more than a leaf blower.

The moment one ranger faced a wall of flames was captured by Stephanie Rouse, in a striking image that won the Resilient Australia photography award on Wednesday.

"The sheer scale of these fires cannot be comprehended until you are physically on the ground in the middle of it all," Ms Rouse said of her image, Unconventional Firefighting.

"Days can turn into weeks, weekends and holidays become non-existent, yet they continue to fight every single year."

The rangers are often asked why they risk fighting these fires, using a leaf blower to create breaks and extinguish blazes, when lives and property are not threatened.

"Their priority is their land – plants, animals, and sacred sites," said Ms Rouse, a project officer at Arnhem Land Fire Abatement.

"This is what is important to them and wildfire can destroy this in an instant."

The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience's Resilient Australia awards, held in Perth, recognised innovative disaster preparedness and recovery programs around the country.

A volunteer project to clean, repair and deliver flood-damaged items after the February 2022 NSW Northern Rivers disaster won the mental health and wellbeing category.

The Shedding Community Workshop in Mullumbimby repaired thousands of items, saved 20 tonnes of waste from landfill and provided a safe space for survivors.

"There was something that clicked in me where I realised it's not about the repairs, it's about people coming together," director Sophie Wilksch said.

Victoria's Harkaway Primary School was awarded the Resilient Australia school award for the students' bushfire manifesto, which called for children to be part of disaster planning and education.

"Kids have really good ideas and sometimes we see problems and risks that adults don't see," the manifesto said.

A world-first online course helping carers, councils and emergency services develop emergency plans for people living with a disability won the national award.

Sydney University's Person-Centred Emergency Preparedness Course also helps people assess their own capability to respond to an emergency.

The EMBER program, which provides free planning and emergency 'go' bags for people living with a disability, won the community award, while the Adelaide Hills Council won the local government category.

The institute's executive director Margaret Moreton said the awards were inspiring, as communities faced times of uncertainty and change.

"As we advance our efforts to increase disaster resilience across Australia, this year's entries show we are now working to bring more people along the journey with us," Ms Moreton said.

"This inclusive approach brings us closer to our goal to support safer communities before, during and after disaster."

Stephanie Gardiner - AAP


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