Having only been with the Department of Environment Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) for one month before the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires, Kate Biles quickly swung into action to support the bushfire response by answering phones at the front desk in Bairnsdale.
“When I slightly naively offered to help and then they put me out on reception – and I’ll never forget – I didn’t even know how to answer the phone as in what am I supposed to say, I didn’t know anybody in the organisation, only my direct team at that stage,” said Kate.
“People would ring up and ask to speak to someone about fencing or wildlife and I had no idea who the contact people were, so I learnt really, really quickly.”
Kate acknowledges that her experience as a yoga teacher helped her to manage her emotions during this stressful and chaotic time.
“The breathing that you’re taught in yoga I think really helps and I sometimes use that when I’m feeling anxious.”
Since then, Kate has been involved in recovery efforts, and now leads a small team as Bushfire Recovery Team Leader for Tambo District in Gippsland.
She has also recently completed her general firefighter training – meaning she can now help on the frontline during emergency events.
Kate says her role is extremely diverse and rewarding.
“There’s no monotony about it – you’re always out meeting different people, working with other agencies like Parks Victoria, meeting contractors on-site and that sort of thing.
“It’s great knowing that you’re improving the forest network for users, for community and for the general public to make it better and safer.”
Kate describes recovery work as complex, ranging from immediate response directly after an event through to long-term projects which require careful planning and consideration.
“Some recovery is instant and other things can be rolled out over years.
“Recovery is also responding to other events, so last year and then April this year we had major storms with very high rainfall – although some of those things can be fixed long term, you’re dealing with something that needs to be dealt with immediately to ensure public safety.
“Whilst generally our work is more focused on the infrastructure side of things, roading and vegetation management, I’m aware of the department’s work to ensure that there’s the support mechanisms in place for the community in the longer term.”
Building relationships within DELWP and the local community is also an important aspect of Kate’s role.
“We do cultural heritage checks by working closely with the cultural heritage project officers and building relationships.
“You deal with local contractors that are fantastic and you get to know them which is great.”
A dedicated recovery team within DELWP is ensuring the skills and knowledge are available when emergency events occur.
“I do think recovery has become just a part of our business-as-usual now.”
Having grown up in Melbourne, lived overseas for several years in Paris and then Johannesburg, Kate is now settled in Gippsland with her two boys and their Golden Retriever, Otis.
“As a child, I used to come to Metung most weekends and every school holidays, so I was really familiar with the area and had family connections here.”
“I definitely call this home now and I don’t imagine ever moving really.”
Page last updated: 17/08/22