How a Dad’s Army fought off bushfire inferno

THEY called themselves Dad's Army - a ragtag band of bone-tired blokes holding the line against a bushfire's relentless march to desolation.

Cape York cattleman Peter Trout, 79, is a lifetime member of that dying breed of never-say-die Australian bushman that ensures city supermarket shelves never go bare.

Faced with a wall of fire snaking across his Kalinga station and licking at the ankles of his thousand-odd head of brahman stock, Mr Trout knew he needed help.

His son, former Barron River MP Michael Trout, put out the call on Facebook. Ian Michael, Tim White, Ian Johnston and Jeff Bratt stepped up.

They called themselves
They called themselves "Dad's Army". Ian Michael, Tim White, Ian Johnston, Peter Trout and Jeff Bratt enjoy a hard-earned beer after fighting back bushfires at the Kalinga cattle station in Cape York. PICTURE: IAN MICHAEL

The small platoon of mates drove north from Cairns to Kalinga, west of the Hann River Roadhouse, to help the Trouts keep the blaze at bay through a persistent and exhausting routine.

Grade the fire break.

Burn it back.

Monitor.

Repeat.

"A typical burn-back off a break is done at night, so you're out most of the night," the senior Mr Trout said.

"You still have to front up at daylight the next morning, as soon as you can see, to run the line and make sure she's OK.

Peter Trout keeps watch over the fire break on his Kalinga cattle station in Cape York in an effort to burn back the country in the face of fast moving bushfires. PICTURE: IAN MICHAEL
Peter Trout keeps watch over the fire break on his Kalinga cattle station in Cape York in an effort to burn back the country in the face of fast moving bushfires. PICTURE: IAN MICHAEL

"After a while, you get that bloody tired you can't even think straight."

This was last week, and the seemingly insurmountable task has now been achieved.

Five men, some with no firefighting experience whatsoever, managed to halt the Vulcan mid-stride and save a property the size of Barbados.

Not bad for a handful of flogged-out old bruisers.

Fire has covered about 2.5 million hectares of country west of Laura over the past month, with tinderbox conditions requiring just the tiniest spark to ignite.

Despite all the media attention of cauterised koalas and homes reduced to ashes down south, the unthinkable is still happening up here.

Bushfires have been burning over about a 2.5 million hectare area west of Laura in Cape York over the past month. PICTURE: NORTHERN AUSTRALIA FIRE INFORMATION
Bushfires have been burning over about a 2.5 million hectare area west of Laura in Cape York over the past month. PICTURE: NORTHERN AUSTRALIA FIRE INFORMATION

Mr Trout believed the fire at Kalinga was deliberately lit, after a visitor spotted someone speed off into the distance with a small fire in their wake.

"It wasn't lightning strike," he said.

"People don't understand how debilitating it is to have one of these fires - and the financial damage you can do.

"The cattle always struggle this time of year up in the Cape - it's that sort of country.

Kalinga station owner and grazier Peter Trout near Hann River on Cape York, QLD. Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian
Kalinga station owner and grazier Peter Trout near Hann River on Cape York, QLD. Lyndon Mechielsen/The Australian

"We feed them lick to keep them going, but no matter how dry the feed is, you need something to go through them.

"That's why we have to fight so hard."

The fight is not over yet.

Far from it.

The army has gone home, but Mr Trout will be out there every morning on a tractor even older than him, watching for burning trees falling across the break, or new spotfires.

But at least the gateway has closed to the seventh circle of hell at his western border.

The backburning operation gets underway as bushfires threaten the Kalinga cattle station in Cape York. PICTURE: IAN MICHAEL
The backburning operation gets underway as bushfires threaten the Kalinga cattle station in Cape York. PICTURE: IAN MICHAEL

"We're still facing a fire on the Hann River, which we're monitoring every day," he said.

"Our job is to hold this fire on the Hann, because if it gets through us, it will keep going and probably hit all of our neighbours north of here.

"I believe we can hold it.

"I've put in a break on our side of the river and I think we can keep it back."

Mr Trout is praying for predictions of rain this weekend to hold true. So are his mates, those Dad's Army workhorses who hollowed out stubbies and traded tales when it was time to call it quits each night.

"Everyone's pretty stuffed by this stage, so a few beers sort of perks them back up again," Mr Trout said. "They well and truly earned it mate, I tell you."