"Don’t bother coming back to work until this is dealt with"

  • By Christine St Anne

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank customer relationship manager Scott Hart speaks to AB+F about his recent stint battling Australia’s unprecedented fires with the support of his community and bank. 

“Fighting bushfires for fun,” is written on Hart’s [picturd centre] Linkedin post referring to his 36 years as a volunteer firefighter and Captain with the NSW Rural Fire Service. While his LinkedIn post was a quip to work outside his day job, the ‘fun’ part was certainly challenged by the recent bushfires that kept New South Wales ablaze for four months. 

Indeed, his holidays at the beginning of November began as the fires were already starting along to the north of Grafton.

“By December they [the RFS] were screaming for people. I decided to go up and give them a hand,” Hart said.

By then, he had dedicated the bulk of his working week to fighting the bushfires, taking him from North Grafton, to Macquarie Lakes. By then, the fires had also started to kick in around his local community at Braidwood. 

“The season really did get cranking.” That’s when his boss Craig Pettit said to him: “Don’t bother coming back to work. Do what you have to do until this is dealt with”. According to Hart, Pettit probably did not think the fires would last that long. 

In fact, when AB+F had spoken to Hart in early February, it was just the 16th day he had spent at work since beginning to battle the fires in mid-November. 

The bushfire season was not a surprise for Hart, but what was unprecedented was that the fire covered such large areas spurred on by easterly winds – which were normally the ‘friend’ of a firie. These conditions drove spot fires, turning them into mega blazes that spanned a vast area that even Hart found confronting. 

The Braidwood RFS brigade has about 30 volunteers. Outside of the intense fire season, these volunteers are also dedicated to helping their community outside of just fighting fires and conducting hazard reduction burns.

“We fill the holes in emergency services. If something needs to be done, then it needs to be done.”  This means that Hart and his team are involved in a myriad of community work such has assisting in traffic control for events like team rugby matches to assisting ambulance workers at car accidents.

While we are a Community Bank, Bendigo provides us with the infrastructure to allow us to support the community

This wide range of volunteering does bring with it an emotional toll, which was brought into sharp focus during the 2019 Christmas season., 

“I admit I have cried. We try to keep things light but at times, the emotions do bubble up to the surface. But we can cry in each other’s presence. We do not see that as a sign of weakness.” 

This emotional support is underpinned by the camaraderie of Hart’s team. 

“We may come from different backgrounds. But once we are in the RFS we are all mates. We really do care for each other.  Not a day goes by, without each of our team not contacting each other.  It’s a regular check-in to see if we are all ok.’ 

Hart’s work was recognized by the much lauded and admired – NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.  

For Hart, coming from a firefighting family, Fitzsimmons “has been there and done that. He is not a politician. He is a great and humble man.”

Having “had the pleasure of meeting him,” he adds that Fitzsimmons really makes you feel like he has your back. “I always thought he was a good bloke to have in our organisation.” 

Hart believes that Bendigo’s supportive approach to community banking was pivotal in both allowing him to be a dedicated volunteer on full pay as well as ensuring the bank’s Braidwood branch remained operational.

The local Community Bank is owned by Palerang Financial Services Ltd who actually run the franchise with Bendigo Bank providing the corporate services. 

“While we are a Community Bank, Bendigo provides us with the infrastructure to allow us to support the community.” 

This also means dollars are ploughed into the community, with the bank investing $2.2 million to date. Including other funding from local/state and federal government grants, this $2.2 million has enabled more than $10 million worth of funding to be spent on local projects. 

But for Hart, it’s not just about “throwing money into the community”. Bendigo’s leave policy for volunteers helps support its people to “roll up their sleeves, spit on their hands and get the work done.” 

Photo credit: Andrew Taylor : From L to R: Otto Benda, ANU; Craig Pettit, Braidwood and Bungendore Community Banks; Scott , Braidwood and Bungendore Community Banks; Danny King, self-employed; Laura King, medical receptionist; Russel Buzby, ANU.

The full article will be featured in the March edition of AB+F including an insight into Bendigo's leave and support policy